Masks may be one of the first things you’d think about when recalling 2020, as they were instrumental in combating the COVID-19 pandemic. But with the growing immunity in the population due to the vaccines’ efficiency and prior infections, mask usage has steadily declined.
However, COVID-19 never truly disappeared. Now that it’s on the rise in the United States and experts are concerned about the possibility of rising hospital occupancy, masks may be in order once again. In fact, some workplaces and public buildings have brought back mask-wearing requirements to mitigate the spread of the virus.
In this post, we’ll address some common questions, including:
- Should you wear a mask in 2023?
- Who should be wearing a mask?
- What type of mask should you wear?
- How should you take care of masks?
Let’s get started.
Should We Still Wear Masks in 2023?
According to the WHO, COVID-19 cases have been steadily rising worldwide, with an increase of 38% in August. Even though these numbers are better than previous years when Omicron hit, the experts still advise caution.
Another cause for concern is the new EG.5 variant, known as “Eris”. This variant, an offshoot of Omicron, started in China but has now spread to North America and Europe. Experts worry about this strain, not because of its lethality but because of its seemingly fast spread.
Although wearing a mask may not be really comfortable, it will protect you from COVID-19 and help stop the spread of the virus. Masks catch droplets of saliva, which are the main way the disease spreads.
Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious diseases expert from UC San Francisco, issued a warning to the Los Angeles Times. He emphasized that completely abandoning masks could increase the risk of virus transmission and explained: “Right now, when things are heating up all around the country with COVID, you might want to think about [masking at] public transit and airports.”
Who Should Be Wearing a Mask?
The relative mildness of the “Eris” strain, plus being vaccinated and boosted, may give you some reasons not to wear a mask, especially if you’re outside.
It’s recommended to wear a mask if:
- You are going to be in an enclosed space for more than ten minutes
- You have been diagnosed with or have been in contact with someone who has COVID-19. In this case, you should wear a mask for ten days.
- You show typical COVID symptoms (e.g. loss of smell)
Also, you should be wearing a mask if you are in contact with or are part of one of the following risk groups:
- Adults aged 65 and up
- People who suffer from diabetes type 1 and 2
- Immunocompromised patients
- Those with heart or lung disease
- People with obesity
- Both active and recovering cancer patients
- Anyone involved in healthcare
Children over two years old can use masks too. In fact, the use of masks in schools may return if cases continue to rise.
What Type of Mask Should You Wear?
Having at least a cloth mask pressed tightly around your nose and mouth should give you some protection. This is enough to prevent the bigger spittle particles and could be done in a pinch.
Ideally, however, you should be wearing one of these masks:
These are surgical-grade respirators that guarantee more than 90% coverage of particles and have a tight fit. They are easily available for purchase and may sometimes be provided by the government for free.
How Should You Take Care of Masks?
If your cloth mask becomes wet or soiled, place it in a sealed plastic bag until you can wash it. This prevents it from developing mold. On the other hand, if your cloth mask is dry and clean, consider storing it in a breathable bag, such as a paper or mesh fabric bag. This way, you’ll maintain cleanliness between uses on the same day.
Cloth masks should be laundered at least once daily or immediately if they become wet or dirty. When it comes to respirators, you should follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Lastly, remember to wash or sanitize your hands after removing any masks.
When Should You Throw Your Mask?
Disposable masks should be discarded after a single use. Meanwhile, if you are using respirators, you should follow the manufacturer’s instructions on when to discard them.
All in all, any disposable masks or respirators that become wet or soiled should be promptly disposed of in the trash. You shouldn’t continue to wear a damp or dirty mask; instead, replace it with a dry and clean one.
We might have already seen the worst of COVID-19, but we can’t let it rise again. Many companies have asked employees to wear masks to work, such as:
- Lionsgate, a Hollywood studio in California
- Morris Brown College in Atlanta
- Kaiser permanente in California
Plus, multiple hospitals in New York have also added a mask-wearing requirement after the rise of COVID cases.
Andrew Pekosz, professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told CNBC: “Anytime we’re seeing an uptick in cases, we should start with telling highly vulnerable populations that they should prepare for this and be a little bit more cognizant of the things they can do to protect themselves. And I think masking is one of them.”
It’s up to each and every one of us to self-police and keep up with the safety methods we’ve learned. Test yourself if you feel any symptoms, wear a mask when needed, and stay up to date on vaccinations. Together, we can keep COVID-19 away.
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