Experts urge the public to mask up amid RSV, flu and COVID-19 flare-ups

As protection against the current "tripledemic," CDC pros are reiterating their recommendations to wear a high-quality medical mask.

Public health professionals are again urging Americans to cover up as influenza, coronavirus and respiratory syncytial virus cases continue to sicken adults and children across the nation.

According to The Washington Post, as protection against the “tripledemic,” experts are reiterating their recommendations to wear a high-quality medical mask while using public transportation, traveling by airline, shopping and moving about in other busy public places.

“Masks will help reduce your risk of all respiratory viruses, not just covid,” said Jay K. Varma, an internal medicine physician, epidemiologist and Weill Cornell Medical College professor, according to The Post. “They have to be the right quality masks worn consistently and correctly. Even a very small percentage increase in mask-wearing when multiplied by a large population can have a big impact.”

mask up against respiratory infections
A digital sign displays a message about wearing masks at the Tropicana Las Vegas in Nevada. Public health pros are again urging the public to cover up as influenza, coronavirus, and respiratory syncytial virus are sickening adults and children across the nation. (Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Contrary to popular belief, medical masks like the N95, KN95 or KF94 are still a very effective first line of defense against ailments spread orally, especially when worn in conjunction with other preventative measures like vaccination, hand washing, better ventilation and avoiding crowded places.

Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the CDC urges everyone to wear a good quality, well-fitting mask to help prevent respiratory infection transmission, particularly on public transit and while traveling by air.

“If you have these other things circulating as well, and you want to protect yourself against other respiratory diseases, then the mask will help you,” Walensky said, according to The Post.

According to the CDC, the 2022–23 flu season is on a path to becoming the worst in a decade. So far, there have been 4,500 flu-related deaths reported, including 14 children. COVID-19 infections are also on the rise.

While the CDC’s mask recommendations are primarily based on COVID-19 rather than the flu and RSV, Walensky said, “the mask works against those as well,” The Post reported.

The choice to wear a mask is one that individuals must make based on their health risks and whether or not they interact with vulnerable people. A facial covering makes sense in crowded spaces such as buses, trains, airlines and subways, places where you don’t know everyone’s immunization status.

Even if you test negative for the coronavirus, health experts say, you should still wear a mask if you’re taking care of a sick individual or are experiencing respiratory symptoms. They also say no one should attend work or social gatherings while experiencing cold or respiratory symptoms.

A study that examined mask use in California found that those who claimed to always wear a cloth mask in indoor public settings were 56 percent less likely to test positive for the coronavirus than those who did not. When people constantly wore surgical masks, the protection increased to 66 percent, and when they wore N95 or KN95 masks, it was 83 percent.

Experts recommend a high-quality medical mask that traps at least 94 to 95 percent of the most dangerous particles using multiple layers of cutting-edge filtering material.

“If you are choosing to go into large crowds, places where transmission of infectious diseases might occur readily, it may be time to break out your mask and wear it,” said Nancy Foster, vice president of quality and patient safety policy at the American Hospital Association, The Post reported.

“You may not wish to wear them all of the time,” she added, “but certainly when you are at a higher risk of exposure or are about to have a visit with an elderly parent or grandparent.”

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