A high-quality, well-fitting mask is your best protection against infection from the coronavirus, influenza and R.S.V.
By Dana G. Smith
Masks are back, and, this time, they’re not just for Covid-19. A “tripledemic” of the coronavirus, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus, known as R.S.V., sweeping through the United States has prompted several cities and counties, including New York City and Los Angeles County, to encourage people to wear a mask in indoor public spaces once again.
Nationwide, Covid-19 case rates and hospitalizations have spiked by 56 percent and 24 percent, respectively, over the past two weeks. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that there have already been 13 million illnesses and 7,300 deaths from flu this season, and those numbers are expected to rise in the coming months. (Over the past decade, annual flu deaths have ranged from 12,000 to 52,000 people, with the peak in January and February.) And while R.S.V. finally appears to be on the decline, infection rates are still high across much of the country.
The C.D.C. officially advises wearing a mask on a county-by-county basis depending on community Covid-19 levels, which take into account virus-related hospital admissions, bed capacity and case rates. However, in an interview with NPR last week, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the C.D.C. director, said, “You don’t need to wait for C.D.C.’s recommendation, certainly, to wear a mask.”
Rates of Covid-19, flu and R.S.V. “may be more intense or a little bit less intense in some parts of the country, but really, the entire country is being affected,” said Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. As a result, he urged anyone who lives in a high-risk household to “put your mask back on” when in public spaces. High-risk households would include those with adults over the age of 65, pregnant women, people with a pre-existing condition such as heart disease, diabetes or lung disease and anyone who is immune-compromised.