COVID cases have risen dramatically in parts of the country since Thanksgiving, leading some health agencies to recommend that people wear face masks once again.
Such recommendations are in place in approximately 9% of the country, which is currently listed at “high” COVID-19 community level status, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Because of increases in metrics such as case numbers and hospitalizations, masks are recommended in those areas.
With COVID, flu and cases or RSV all circulating across the country, should you consider wearing a mask – even if you don’t live in an area under “high” community level status?
Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, earlier this week said she does wear a mask if in a public indoor setting. However, officially, masks aren’t recommended for the general population in Chicago or suburban Cook County, as both are at the “medium” community level.
At “medium” status, anyone at high risk of getting seriously ill should wear a high-quality mask when in public indoors, according to official CDC guidance. Additionally, if you haven’t received the latest booster shot, you also may want to consider wearing a mask indoors, Arwady explained.
While Chicago’s community level remains “fairly stable,” Michelle Funk, CDPH medical director for disease control and youth settings, said it’s a good idea to wear a mask in any public space where you don’t know the vaccination status of others. This is especially the case, she explained, with a rise in flu cases.
“Whenever we think of reducing reducing risk of respiratory virus spread, we think about layers so masking is a great layer,” Funk stated, urging vaccination to provide additional protection. “If you’re going to be in a crowded place if you’re going to the grocery store, riding public transportation, not only to protect yourself against COVID but also against the flu…”
Arwady explained she doesn’t want people to think masking is something the government says they have to do all the time, but another tool to help protect themselves and others.
“I would advise putting a mask on, you know, while we’re in high respiratory season. If you’re in these crowded sites, you know, if you’re on the L, and if it’s busy, you know, in a store, etc…,” she said.
There may come a point, however, when masks are widely encouraged again.
“If… we start seeing hospitalizations going up, we start seeing that get up to a really high level,” the doctor explained. “You know, we may make some more broad recommendations for [the] general population kind for indoor mask wearing, not requirements right at this point, but some more recommendations…”