With three highly contagious respiratory viruses sickening adults and children across the country and holiday gatherings just weeks away, public health officials are starting to talk about face masks again.
Although mask mandates are unlikely in most parts of the country, health experts are renewing recommendations to wear a high-quality medical mask on public transport, in airports and on planes, while shopping and in other crowded public spaces.
What’s remarkable is that the mask recommendations this time aren’t just about avoiding the coronavirus. Masks are advised to protect against what is known as ‘tripledemic’ – a confluence of influenza, coronavirus and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) that is already straining hospitals and forcing parents to missing work in record numbers.
As the country enters its third pandemic winter, covid-19 cases are on the rise and the 2022-23 flu season is shaping up to be the worst in a decade – there have already been 4,500 flu deaths, including 14 children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
With such a burden of disease on the healthcare system, it can be hard to believe that something as simple as a face mask could make a meaningful difference. But health experts say a quality medical mask – such as an N95, KN95 or KF94 – remains a very effective line of defense, especially when combined with vaccinations, hand washing, better ventilation and avoidance of crowds.
“Masks will help reduce your risk of all respiratory viruses, not just covid,” said Jay K. Varma, internal medicine physician, epidemiologist and professor of population health sciences at Weill Cornell Medical College. “They must be good quality masks worn consistently and correctly. Even a very small percentage increase in mask wearing when multiplied by a large population can have a big impact.
We spoke with several public health experts about why a face mask might be your best vacation accessory this winter. Here’s what they had to say.
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