What If We Are Asked to Wear Masks Again?


Do the very freedoms Americans enjoy allow us to make less than optimal choices? And will it prevent us from doing what medical science says is best if needed again?

As Americans honor military personnel who have died in the performance of their military duties while serving in the United States Armed Forces today, it is a reminder of the freedoms the country has earned. The question becomes does this freedom give people too much choice and is detrimental when thinking about health guidance that can help not only individuals but their fellow Americans?

If anything the pandemic has shown that people’s choices can greatly affect how a deadly virus can travel quickly or be mitigated.

As the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently changed its mask guidance for those who are fully vaccinated, the United States is learning to adapt to these changes. We are emerging from this pandemic and beginning to shed masks. If you walk into any business without a mask, it might feel slightly odd at first, like we forgot something. Turn on any sporting event on TV and we are starting to see more people in the crowd.

Everyone should enjoy this return to a semblance of normalcy we are experiencing.

However, it is still undetermined if COVID-19 will be eliminated or become endemic. If it is the latter, and it becomes like influenza with an annual season, and the CDC were to recommend everyone wear masks in the winter, would Americans be willing to heed this advice?

Future COVID-19 mitigation strategies could not only help decrease COVID-19 transmission but other respiratory viruses as well. This past influenza season was greatly diminished due to heightened hygiene measures and mask wearing.

In some Asian cultures, they have been wearing masks in public for years to prevent respiratory viruses. Could this type of widespread mask wearing translate to the United States?

Contagion spoke to Jeanne Marrazzo, MD, MPH, FIDSA, director of the Division of Infectious Diseases and professor of medicine at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, and an IDSA board member about a potential COVID-19 endemic scenario including the use of masks, some of the ancillary health benefits COVID-19 mitigation strategies provided, and the prospects of an American cultural shift towards using masks again.

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