Places you might still want to wear a mask

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Fitness centers are listed by experts as one of the high risk places for COVID-19 transmission. FG Commerce/Getty Images

Just when we almost seemed to be done with them, the masks are back. At least in some places.

As COVID-19 case rates decreases Over the past two months, following a spike caused by the highly infectious variant of Omicron in January, mask mandates have also begun to fall in the United States.

In recent weeks, however, new cases caused by a pair of new Omicron subvariants have caused some schools and communities in certain sections of the country to reverse course.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) last week widened its mask mandate on air, rail and other public transport just days before the previous rule expired. Masks on these means of transport were to be required until at least May 3, although a Florida judge overturned the mandate on April 18.

On April 11, the city of Philadelphia reinstated its indoor masking requirement after COVID-19 cases rose 50% in less than two weeks.

Additionally, as cases surged in the eastern United States, a number of colleges and universities also enforced their mask mandates. back in force. These included American University, Johns Hopkins, Georgetown, Columbia, Rice, and the University of Connecticut.

“Given the increase in cases associated with the most transmissible BA.2 variant, many communities recommend universal masking regardless of vaccination status when indoors in public places,” David SoulelesMPH, the director of COVID-19 Response at the University of California, Irvine, told Healthline.

The increase in cases caused by new Omicron variants of COVID-19 – known as BA.2.12 and BA.2.12.1 – may or may not last. But experts say masking – whether mandatory or voluntary – is likely to be with us for the foreseeable future.

Hospitals and other healthcare facilities, for example, are unlikely to drop the masking mandates that have been in place since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Glenn Wortmann, the medical director of infection prevention at MedStar Health’s Quality and Safety Institute, told Healthline that many institutions will continue to set their masking and physical distancing policies based on the CDC. estimates COVID-19 positivity rates from community to community.

“When there’s not a lot of transmission in the community, you don’t need to mask up, but when there is, you should,” he said.

Individual health status and transmission risk should play a prominent role in deciding whether or not to mask in places where masking is not required by law, Wortmann said.

“If you’re going to a nursing home or you’ve had a kidney transplant that destroyed your immune system, then yes, you should wear a mask,” he said. “If you’re 20 and healthy, probably not. It’s a situational decision.

“As community levels move from low to moderate, those who are immunocompromised or have high-risk medical conditions should consider wearing masks,” Dr. Tammy Lundstrom, an infectious disease specialist and chief medical officer at Trinity Health, told Healthline. “If there is a high community level, everyone should wear a mask in indoor environments. Even when community levels are low, some people may feel more comfortable continuing to wear a mask in crowded indoor settings.

Wortmann said masking will continue to be especially protective in crowded indoor environments.

“The more people in a crowd, the more likely some of those people are to have COVID,” he said.

On the other hand, Wortmann said, there’s probably no need to wear a mask outside.

In a report released in January, an expert panel said enclosed spaces with poor air circulation such as nightclubs and under-ventilated gymnasiums are high-risk areas,

They also noted that activities such as exercising, shouting or singing also increase the risk. The number of people and the time spent inside also matter.

Another report released in January by a San Francisco neighborhood safety group listed the 10 riskiest places to catch COVID-19.

Bars, jails and prisons topped the list, followed by nursing homes, indoor theaters, churches, restaurants, crowded outdoor theaters and gymnasiums.

A report published by Readers’ Digest in February, bars, restaurants, gyms and public transport are among the areas most at risk.

“In general, environments with fewer people and good ventilation are best,” Wortman said. “For example, a small restaurant with outdoor seating would be safer than a crowded indoor bar. Exposure time is also an important factor. A short trip to the supermarket will be safer than being in a room crowded for an hour.

To research has shown that wearing a mask can reduce the chances of catching COVID-19, experts agree.

“A high-quality, well-fitting mask helps reduce the likelihood of the wearer transmitting the virus to others or becoming infected by others, even if others are not wearing a mask,” Souleles said. “A respirator, such as an N-95 mask, provides the best protection [but] The CDC continues to recommend that you wear the most protective mask possible that fits you well and that you will wear regularly. Good options to consider are N-95s, KN-95s, and surgical masks.

“The least protective are cloth masks,” Lundstrom noted.

A silver lining of the latest rise in COVID-19 is that it has been accompanied by a lower rate of hospitalizations and deaths than previous peaks, perhaps because much of the US population has been immune to the disease or has recovered from a recent bout. of COVID or both.

“As this unfolds, we may just have to accept this as part of life,” Wortmann said. “I like to wear a seatbelt when I drive, so if I can wear a mask and not get sick, it’s worth it to me.”

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