Ask the Doctors: Keep wearing your mask outside the home if you want to
You might face peer pressure over continuing to wear a mask, but, from a health and safety standpoint, it still can be a wise choice.
Dear Doctors: The pandemic restrictions were difficult, but I’m not comfortable with ending mask mandates yet. I have a coworker who says that since vaccinated people don’t get very sick, getting infected isn’t the big deal it used to be. Do you think that’s true?
Dear Reader: You’re not alone in feeling uneasy about dropping mask mandates. In a recent national poll, more than half of those surveyed said they still wear a mask when outside of the home even though face coverings no longer are required. And three-quarters of respondents said they wear a mask at least some of the time and plan to continue to do so.
Epidemiologists at the health care center where we practice, UCLA, think continuing to wear masks is a good idea. They point out that, despite having dropped from their previous peak, infection and death rates from COVID-19 remain far higher than, say, what we see in a typical flu season, and it speaks to the need for continued vigilance.
Since you’re concerned about the risk of becoming infected, you should keep using a mask while outside of the home.
As for your coworker’s view of developing COVID, there are serious flaws to that logic. It’s true the data show that vaccination offers protection against hospitalization and death. But even mild illness carries serious risks that include long COVID, a collection of symptoms that persist for weeks or months after the initial illness has passed. The data suggest that 10% to 30% of people with coronavirus infections go on to experience long COVID symptoms.
A good mask helps protect the wearer. That means N95 and KN95 masks, which have low porosity and can filter much smaller particles than a cloth mask.
You want to make sure the mask hugs the bridge of the nose and wraps under the chin. The perimeter should be snug enough to create a seal but not so tight as to be uncomfortable. When a mask fits properly, it will gently inflate and deflate as you exhale and inhale.
Just as we have learned to take breaks from sitting too long at work, it’s helpful to take regular breaks from masking.
You might face peer pressure over continuing to wear a mask, but, from a health and safety standpoint, we believe you’re making a wise choice.
Dr. Eve Glazier and Dr. Elizabeth Ko are internists at UCLA Health.