Facemasks are no longer required. Should I still wear one?
Some things to consider before throwing out those face masks
By Dr. William Kim, Chief Medical Advisor, Beach Cities Health District
Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) updated their guidance for people wearing face masks as a prevention measure during the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of masks being “required,” they are now “strongly recommended.” The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health followed suit, lifting their indoor mask requirement as of Friday after the County achieved the “Low Community Risk” level.
Many people are happy they are no longer required to wear masks and, for the first time in a long time, can see people’s smiling faces again.
(Please note: masks have been required at all schools until March 12, when masking indoors for both vaccinated and unvaccinated students, staff, teachers and visitors will be strongly recommended. Also, masking is still required in certain settings, including public transit, transportation hubs, all health care settings (including long term care and adult and senior care facilities), correctional and detention facilities, homeless shelters, and emergency shelters. It’s a good idea to keep a mask with you should you find yourself in one of these settings.)
But this brings up a good question: “Should I continue to wear a mask in public?”
There are a number of ways to answer this question, beginning with this: we are still in a global pandemic and COVID-19 remains a threat, along with the variants, Delta, Omicron and Omicron BA.2. While we thankfully are no longer seeing high transmission levels like we saw in December and January, you need to consider the personal and family risks of being in public, and you may decide that wearing a mask is the right decision for that situation. In deciding, individuals should consider:
- Are there individuals in the household who have underlying health conditions that create elevated risk for severe illness from COVID?
- Are there unvaccinated family members in the household including young children not yet eligible for vaccines?
- Does anyone in the household work in a setting with vulnerable individuals at elevated risk of severe illness from COVID?
For instance, if you’re an older adult, or have a health condition that makes you more vulnerable, you should keep that facemask handy, especially if you’re going to be in a crowded, indoor setting.
You won’t be alone. I have been to a few public places this week. At some of the businesses I visited, as many as half of the customers were wearing masks.
If you still need a reason to continue wearing a mask, here are some (less than serious) reasons:
- I don’t have to shave.
- Masks can hide pimples.
- Health care workers, like doctors, nurses, lab and x-ray technicians have been wearing masks for years. Many people consider healthcare workers to be smart or intelligent, so wearing a mask may make you look smart, too.
Seriously, we learned during the recent Omicron surge that a mask that offers good fit and filtration provides good protection against the virus. Medical-grade masks, such as the N95, KN95 or KF94, help prevent the transmission of infectious agents other than COVID-19, such as flu and cold viruses. If you don’t have one of these masks, a surgical mask with a cloth covering over it is a good alternative and provides better protection than a cloth face covering alone.
After a tough winter, COVID-19 numbers are trending in the right direction, as shown by the lifting of mask requirements and hopefully the virus will continue its retreat. While you don’t have to wear that mask everywhere, it’s a good idea to keep it handy for your health and the health of those around you.