Yes You Still Need to Wear a Mask

Yes You Still Need to Wear a Mask

Short of a total lockdown, universal mask-wearing is the most effective way to slow the relentless rise in hospitalizations and deaths from Covid-19.

As a professional health writer and concerned citizen, the ache in my heart deepens with each new report of the devastation wrought by the novel coronavirus, the cause of immeasurable — and still increasing — personal and economic pain for people caught in its deadly spikes.

In a recent five-week period, 100,000 Americans died from complications of Covid-19, a toll that took the country four months to reach last spring.

My distress is magnified by the knowledge that it didn’t have to be this bad. One simple measure — consistent wearing of face coverings in public — could have helped to stem the agony. In December, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reiterated advice first given in July: “Wear a mask over your nose and mouth. Everyone should wear a mask in public settings and when around people who don’t live in your household, especially when other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.”

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Yes You Still Need to Wear a Mask

Masks, the agency emphasized, protect both the wearer and those the wearer encounters in the course of daily life.

Now, with the emergence of a highly contagious variant of the virus and the chaotic attempts to distribute and administer vaccines to hundreds of millions of vulnerable Americans, short of a total lockdown, universal mask-wearing is the most effective way to slow the relentless rise in hospitalizations and deaths from Covid-19.

It will take many months to immunize everyone willing and able to get a Covid vaccine. Meanwhile, we’re facing another tsunami of deadly coronavirus infections as the new variant sweeps through swaths of still-unprotected millions.

As with many other measures not taken by the last administration to minimize the spread of Covid-19, mask-wearing was left up to the states to mandate and enforce. Masks became a political football, and the former president publicly ridiculed opponents who wore them. Some elected officials even made the ridiculous, baseless claim that masks not only don’t thwart the spread of the virus, they actually enhance it. I wonder if they also ignored parents and teachers who told them to cover their mouths when they coughed or sneezed.

I also wonder about the economic savvy of our former president and the governors who have resisted issuing mask mandates, some of whom got Covid-19 themselves yet clamored to open the economy. Goldman Sachs estimated last June that implementing a nationwide mask mandate could have a potential impact on the U.S. GDP of one trillion dollars.

Lately, as I await my second vaccine shot, I’ve become increasingly aware of how many people walk, run or cycle without a mask or, if they have a mask, wear it ineffectively. I’ve taken to speaking up more often: “Please wear your mask” or “The mask should cover your nose and mouth.” Among the ignorant responses: “I don’t need a mask when I’m outside,” “I already had Covid so I can’t get it again or give it to you,” and my favorite while walking on a four-foot-wide path, “I stay six feet away from people.”