As virus infections rise, dust off masks to wear in busy public places

Masks reduce the risk of viral transmission from the so-called “tripledemic.”

SHARE As virus infections rise, dust off masks to wear in busy public places
Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady puts on her mask during a Sept. 6 press conference at City Hall.

Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady puts on her mask during a Sept. 6 press conference at City Hall.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Back in March 2020, this editorial board said its members would be wearing masks, even though that ran counter to much of the medical advice at the time.

Now, during the winter COVID-19 spike, we think it is time for more people to wear masks again in crowded public places, even though there is generally no requirement to do so. Wearing a mask might impede conversation with others, which is one reason people forgo them. But a lot of the time when we are in public places, such as on the bus or at the grocery store, we are alone, so masks really aren’t much of a problem. And masks reduce the risk of viral transmission from the so-called “tripledemic” of COVID-19, the flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, says she wears a mask when she is in a public indoor place. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is encouraging the use of masks, and both the CDC and the Transportation Security Administration are advising travelers to put on masks. Even when not traveling, it is a good idea to pop on a mask in confined places with people around. You don’t know the vaccination status of other people and can’t tell if they are contagious.

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Right now, there is no rush to require masks, but that could change if hospitalizations start to soar. In Chicago and Cook County, COVID-19 cases are expected to move to the high-risk level soon, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. The CDC says U.S. COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths are on the upswing. There’s no reason to wait for an official decree to wear masks.

Yes, we are all tired of wearing masks. But really, they are not much of an inconvenience when we are out and about by ourselves. Many of us have plenty of masks around our homes we can pop on when we need to when we are out. And we can easily take them off if the situation calls for it. People also should ensure they are fully vaccinated.

Besides health reasons, there is another benefit to masks. When Chicago’s infamous Hawk starts furiously blowing along Chicago streets with its bitter winter cold, a spare mask in the pocket can be a handy way to help keep your face warm.

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