Experts say that in the midst of a ‘triple epidemic’, it is time to mask again

Experts say that in the midst of a ‘triple epidemic’, it is time to mask again

“The bottom line is that masks work,” said Syra Madad, senior director of the Special Pathogens System at New York City Health + Hospitals. “Whether you’re talking about Covid-19 or other respiratory viruses like RSV and the flu, wearing a mask will help protect you from all of these respiratory viral illnesses.”

Other public health measures, such as hand washing, wiping surfaces and air filtration, are also important to limit the spread of respiratory viruses. There’s a special emphasis on vaccinations, especially by the White House and the CDC, and you should absolutely get your flu shot and the latest Covid-19 shot if you haven’t already. But vaccines are best thought of as protection against serious illness if you do contract the virus. Masks are the first line of defense against transmission.

“Frankly, neither antiviral drugs nor vaccines have done a good job of preventing transmission,” said Dr. Abraar Karan, an infectious disease associate and postdoctoral researcher at Stanford Medicine. “What prevents transmission is actually masking and probably filtering the air.”

When determining when and where to mask, Dr. Madad recommended paying attention to the “Three Cs”: close contact, crowded spaces, and confined spaces with poor ventilation. Experts urged wearing masks while traveling by plane and public transport, and strongly suggested doing so while shopping for groceries and gifts. For smaller holiday parties with people you know, it’s okay to forgo masks if guests are tested beforehand and stay home if they’re feeling run down.

Realistically, not everyone in the United States — or in a given city — will wear a mask. In fact, you might find yourself the only person in the store or on the plane wearing it. Don’t let that discourage you. First of all, remember that no one thinks about you as much as you think they do. In social psychology, it’s called the spotlight illusion, said Gretchen Chapman, a professor of social and decision sciences at Carnegie Mellon University. “I might feel like everyone’s staring at me because I’m wearing a mask, but chances are that’s the 11th thing on their worry list,” she said.

Moreover, Dr. Chapman said, “There are a lot of situations in life where we do something that makes us feel uncomfortable, but if we think it’s important enough, we do it anyway.”

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