How I’ll decide when it’s time to ditch my mask

For weeks, I have been watching coronavirus cases drop across the United States. At the same time, cases were heading heavenward in many places in Europe, Asia and Oceania. Those surges may have peaked in some places and seem to be on a down trajectory again, according to Our World in Data.

Much of the rise in cases has been attributed to the omicron variant ’ s more ancestral sibling BA.2 clawing its way to prominence. But many public health officials have pointed out that the surges coincide with loosen of COVID-19 moderation measures.

People around the world are shedding their masks and gathering in public. immunity from vaccines and anterior infections have helped limit deaths in wealthier countries, but the omicron siblings are very good at evading immune defenses, leading to breakthrough infections and reinfections. even so, at the end of February, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention posted new guidelines for masking, more than doubling the number of cases needed per 100,000 people before officials recommended a come back to the face coverings ( SN : 3/3/22 ).

not everyone has ditched their masks. I have observed some regional trends. The majority of people I see at my grocery memory and other places in my community in Maryland are still wearing masks. But on road trips to the Midwest and back, evening during the acme of the omicron billow, most of the faces I saw in public were denude. meanwhile, I was wearing my N95 mask even when I was the only person doing so. I reasoned that I was protecting myself from infection as best I could. I was besides protecting my sleep together ones and other people around me from me should I have unwittingly contracted the virus.

But I will tell you a secret. I don ’ t very like wearing masks. They can be hot and uncomfortable. They leave lines on my face. And sometimes masks make it hard to breathe. At the same time, I know that wearing a good quality, well-fitting mask greatly reduces the gamble of testing cocksure for the coronavirus ( SN : 2/12/21 ). In one learn, N95 or KN95 masks reduced the find of testing positive by 83 percentage, researchers reported in the February 11 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. And school districts with mask mandates had about a quarter of the number of in-school infections as districts where masks weren ’ deoxythymidine monophosphate required ( SN : 3/15/22 ).

With those data in heed, I am not ready to go audacious. And I ’ megabyte not alone. closely 36 percentage of the 1,916 respondents to a Science News Twitter pate said that they still wear masks everywhere in public. Another 28 percentage said they mask in indoor crowd, and 23 percentage said they mask merely where it ’ mho mandatary. only about 12 percentage have ditched masks wholly.

Some poll respondents left comments clarifying their answers, but most people ’ second reasons for masking aren ’ metric ton clear. possibly they live in the parts of the area or world where transmission levels are high and hospitals are at gamble of being overrun. possibly they are parents of children besides youthful for inoculation. possibly they or other loved ones are unvaccinated or have weakened immune systems that put them at risk for severe disease. possibly, like me, they just don ’ triiodothyronine want to get ghastly — with anything.

Before the pandemic, I caught several colds a year and had to deal with seasonal allergies. Since I started wearing a mask, I haven ’ triiodothyronine had a unmarried respiratory illness, though allergies still irritate my eyes and make my nose run. I ’ ve besides got some health conditions that raise my risk of hard illness. I ’ thousand amply vaccinated and boosted, so I probably won ’ thymine die if I catch the virus that causes COVID-19, but I don ’ t want to test it ( SN : 11/8/21 ). properly now, I merely feel safe wearing a mask when I ’ megabyte indoors in public places.

I ’ ve been thinking a lot about what would convince me that it was safe to go maskless. What is the number or metric unit that will mark the limit of my consolation zone ?

The CDC now recommends using its COVID-19 Community Levels map for determining when mask use is needed. That metric is largely concerned with keeping hospitals and early health caution systems from becoming overwhelmed. By that measure, most of the country has the green light to go maskless. I ’ meter probably more cautious than the average person, but the levels of transmission in that metric function that would trigger mask wearing — 200 or more cases per 100,000 population — seem high to me, particularly since CDC ’ s anterior recommendations urged masking at a quarter of that level.

The metric function is designed for communities, not individuals. so what numbers should I, as an person, go by ? There ’ sulfur constantly the CDC ’ s COVID-19 Integrated County View that tracks case rates and trial incontrovertibility rates — the share of tests that have a plus consequence. Cases in my county have been ticking up in the final few days, with 391 people having gotten COVID-19 in the last workweek — that ’ s about 37 out of every 100,000 people. That seems like relatively broken odds of coming into contact with a contagious person. But those are entirely the cases we know about formally. There may be many more cases that were never reported as people take rapid antigen tests at home or decide not to test. There ’ sulfur no way to know precisely how much COVID-19 is out there.

And the proportion of cases caused by BA.2 is on the wax, with the more infectious omicron random variable account for about 35 percentage of cases countrywide in the week ending March 19. In the middle atlantic states where I live, about 30 percentage of cases are nowadays caused by BA.2. But in some parts of the Northeast, that variant now causes more than half of cases. The addition is unsettling but doesn ’ metric ton inevitably mean the United States will experience another brandish of infections as Europe has. Or possibly we will. That doubt makes me uncomfortable removing my mask indoors in populace right now.

Maybe in a few weeks, if there ’ s no new rush in infections, I ’ ll feel comfortable walking about in public with my nose and mouth exposed. Or possibly I ’ ll wait until the total of cases in my county is in unmarried digits. I ’ thousand pretty certain there will come a day when I won ’ triiodothyronine feel the want to filter every hint, but for me, it ’ s not that meter so far. And I truthfully can ’ t tell you what my magic trick number will be.

hera ’ s what I do know : even if I do decide to have an unmask summer, I will be strapping my mask back on if COVID-19 cases begin to rise again.

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