Experts said that although the mandatory requirements for masks are coming to an end, the restrictions should be maintained during the holidays.
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In the turmoil of the past two years - a period that includes deadly epidemics, mass layoffs, ugly presidential elections, and attacks on the U.S. Capitol - some of the most heated political debates in the United States have revolved around a piece of almost weightlessness. The land unfolds. Fabric: Mask.
US officials have been slow to use masks as a strategy to slow the spread of the coronavirus. When they finally did so, masks became a powerful symbol of the pandemic—a common-sense public health measure turned into a political hotspot and a clear reminder that life is definitely not normal.
Now, with the surge of deltas in the rearview mirror in the summer and the vaccination of school-age children, many Americans are wondering when the masks will finally be removed.
"The best science does support the use of masks as an effective strategy to reduce Covid-19," said Dr. Stephen Ruby, an infectious disease expert and epidemiologist at Stanford University. "The question is: well, how long do we do this, and under what circumstances?" He added: "Are we wearing masks for the rest of our lives?"
Some public officials are already planning an ending. On Tuesday, Washington, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser announced that indoor mask requirements will be relaxed. The next day, Florida lawmakers passed a bill prohibiting schools from wearing masks, and some areas have abandoned the bill.
A spokesperson for New York City’s mayor-designate Eric Adams said in an email that he “hopes to cancel the school’s mask regulations when health officials determine safety.”
Experts say that time has not yet come.
Follow the ever-changing rules and recommendations about wearing masks, as well as the school's guidelines for wearing masks.
Anne Rimoin, an epidemiologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, said: “The cases are starting to rise again, and we have not yet defeated the virus.” “We may be tired of Covid and Covid restrictions and public health measures, but This virus certainly hasn't wiped out us yet."
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that even people who are fully vaccinated should wear masks in public indoor spaces where the virus is spread in "large or high" communities. Currently, approximately 85% of U.S. counties meet this threshold, which means that there are at least 50 new cases per week for every 100,000 residents.
Scientists say it will be safer to relax mask requirements early next year after more children have been vaccinated and the holiday travel season has passed. They pointed out that in some cases, and in future cold and flu seasons, voluntary masks will continue to help.
"I don't think we want to put all the masks away," Dr. Ruby said.
Multiple evidence supports the effectiveness of masks as a public health intervention.
Laboratory studies have shown that even basic cloth masks can block more than 50% of small aerosols; surgical masks and N95 respirators are even better. Real-world studies have shown that statewide and school-wide mask regulations can curb the spread of the virus.
A randomized trial conducted by Dr. Luby and his colleagues in 600 villages in Bangladesh showed that interventions to wear masks, including the distribution of free masks and multi-pronged information campaigns, led to a significant increase in mask wearing and Covid’s Falling cases. (The research has not yet been published in a scientific journal.)
All these studies have limitations, but combining them with many similar analyses leads to a clear conclusion.
Lindsay Marr, an airborne virus expert at Virginia Tech, said: "There is a lot of evidence that masks help slow the spread."
Masks are not without their shortcomings. "They hinder communication," Dr. Marr said. "They may be uncomfortable."
Some people with disabilities may not be able to wear masks, and there is still controversy about how to weigh the pros and cons of wearing masks. They are less likely than adults to become seriously ill from the virus. (The CDC says that children under 2 years of age should not wear masks, while the World Health Organization advises against requiring children under 6 years of age to wear masks.)
However, experts said that since most people can tolerate masks well, and wearing masks is far less destructive than other mitigation measures such as blockades, masks are a key tool to deal with the pandemic.
Richard Stutt, an infectious disease modeler at the University of Cambridge, said: “I think in many ways, wearing a mask is one of the interventions you might want to relax at the end.” “As with most others. Compared with interventions, the cost of wearing a mask is very, very low."
But the rules for wearing masks were never intended to last forever. This fall, with the reduction in cases and the expansion of vaccine qualifications, some public officials began to consider how to end them.
This month, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health announced its standards, including specific vaccination and transmission benchmarks, to eliminate some indoor shelter requirements.
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy recently stated that he hopes to cancel the state’s school mask requirement “as soon as possible” and proposed the idea of phased out the requirement. Starting from high school, its teenage students have been there for several months. Eligible for vaccination.
But experts say that it is too early to relax the mask requirements, especially when we enter the winter, when people spend more time indoors, holiday travel will gather people from afar, and respiratory viruses can easily spread.
"This is not the time for me to reduce my masks," Dr. Luby said.
Dr. Marr advises not to abolish the school’s requirement to wear masks until the winter vacation is over and more school-age children have the opportunity to receive these two vaccines. If the level of community transmission is low or moderate a few weeks after school resumes in January, then, "Yes, let us get rid of masks," she said.
Seema Lakdawala, a respiratory virus expert at the University of Pittsburgh, envisions a similar timetable: "Maybe in February, we can say goodbye to masks."
Other experts are unwilling to provide dates. Dr. Rimoin said that before relaxing the mask requirements, she hopes to see a more sustained reduction in the number of cases and deaths. "We still see 1,000 deaths from this virus every day," she said. "It's not just a matter of comfort and ease-I mean, it's a matter of life and death for many people."
Scientists emphasize that the relaxation of mask restrictions needs to be decided locally, which depends on a series of complex factors, including local transmission and vaccination rates, as well as the vulnerability of relevant populations.
Dr. Stout said: "If an outbreak occurs in a region or a specific community, then I think that even in the whole country, things are fairly controlled, and it makes sense for people in that community to wear masks."
Wearing a mask is not all or nothing. Even after the injunction is lifted, for some people (such as the elderly or people with weakened immune systems), wearing a mask in certain situations can make sense. Scientists say people should be prepared to put on masks again in the event of a surge in the future.
Experts also expressed the hope that the new mask wearing regulations may last longer than the pandemic. Masks can help reduce the spread of other respiratory viruses. Experts say they plan to continue to wear masks in certain environments in future flu seasons, such as on airplanes and buses.
"Before the pandemic, it was a shame to wear masks in this country, but I think it has become the norm in many places," Dr. Marr said. (However, she admitted, "I don't think other people will wear masks anymore.")
Dr. Lakdawala expressed the hope that with the relaxation of other epidemic restrictions, people may find that in some high-risk situations, a short period of time to wear a mask will reduce some of the burden.
"Hopefully, as people become more comfortable with vaccination and realize that they can see their friends and family, they can safely carry out daily activities. Wearing a mask within 20 minutes of taking the bus to work is not considered Burden," she said. "This is seen as a way to protect yourself and your family."