Face masks, one of the last visible symbols of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, are slowly fading away as Americans hope to view the pandemic only in the rearview mirror.
Hospitals and physicians’ offices were some of the last bastions of mandated masking and state mandates for medical facilities are dropping like flies.
State-wide orders mandating masks in all public places largely ended in early 2022 although mask requirements for hospitals, long-term care facilities, and medical offices remained in force. Now, those laws are largely a thing of the past.
It went largely unnoticed, but the U.S. mandate for the use of face masks on public transit expired on May 11, 2023 with the end of the public health emergency. It had not been enforced on planes for over a year due to an April 2022 court order.
In addition, the Navaho Nation, the largest U.S. tribal nation, ended its mask mandate on January 20 of this year, after being in effect across the Navajo reservation, which covers more than 27,000 square miles (70,000 square kilometers) in Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah, for almost three years.
This all sounds good if you are not immunocompromised or do not suffer from chronic illnesses.
It can also be particularly bad if you happen to be one of the estimated four million people in the United States who happens to have Long Covid. A Covid reinfection can worsen symptoms of Long Covid or cause a recurrence of symptoms in patients who have recovered.
Accordingly, the changes to masking policies have sparked pushback from some doctors and infectious-disease specialists as well as Long Covid researchers such as myself. They correctly point out that maintaining masking rules in medical settings would protect elderly patients, patients with chronic conditions, people with weakened immune systems, others who are vulnerable to infection, and Long Covid patients who are extremely vulnerable to reinfection.
If a new variant or subvariant becomes dominant in a region and it has the ability to evade current protections afforded by immunity, all bets are off if face masks are also off.
Regular readers of this space will note that I discussed last week the possibility of another SARS-CoV-2 outbreak that will rival the omicron wave in illness and death. This is not a shot in the dark.
One leading virologist said that it appears that there’s as much of a 40% chance of this happening if not greater.
If this comes to pass – and 40% is not a “slight chance” by any means – it will be catastrophic to these at-risk groups and merely disastrous to everyone else.
(Photo: Accura Media Group)