While it may sometimes feel like it, COVID is certainly not over. Every single day, people all across the U.S. are finding out they've tested COVID positive for the first time, been reinfected, or gotten a breakthrough case. Infections are on the rise: According to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cases increased by 8 percent this week compared to last, being spurred by new subvariants of the Omicron variant.
Many people are reporting mild illness from recent cases, but there are still others getting hospitalized and even dying from the virus. The CDC's data indicates that hospitalizations have increased by 8 percent this week and deaths have also climbed up by 18.6 percent. Since the first line of defense against these concerning outcomes is not getting infected at all, it's important to take any advice on how to stay protected. Read on to find out what one virus expert says is the "most important thing" to do in order to avoid COVID now.
Mask mandates are still being lifted all across the U.S.
Before the COVID pandemic hit in 2020, the idea of wearing masks every day was something we'd never considered. But over the past two years, masks became a normal part of our lives. Their usage has dwindled significantly in 2022, however—especially following the removal of most mask mandates throughout the U.S.
In April, a federal judge struck down the CDC's mask mandate for public transportation, overturning the requirement and prompting all major U.S. airlines to immediately stop requiring passengers and crew to wear masks on board. Now, the Broadway League just announced that it will be allowing its theaters to drop their mask mandates starting July 1, as part of a new "mask optional policy," The New York Times reported.
"Our theater owners have been watching the protocols, watching admissions to hospitals, watching as we have no issues across the country where tours are mostly not masked, and they decided it was time to try," Broadway League President Charlotte St. Martin told the newspaper on June 21.
But you might want to keep one on hand if you're worried about getting COVID.
Despite the recent removal of mask mandates, most health experts are singing a different tune. In a new interview with Fox 35 Orlando, Todd Husty, DO, an emergency medicine specialist and the medical director for the EMS Operations teams in Seminole County, Florida, warned that the coronavirus "could get worse" as it evolves over time. To avoid any type of infection with the virus, Husty's biggest piece of advice is simple: wear a mask when you're around others.
"The most important thing is if you don't want to get sick from COVID, don't hang out in large crowds of people without a mask on," he told the news outlet.
The type of mask you're wearing is still important, too.
While any mask is better than no mask, the kind of mask you are wearing is something you should also think about if you're really worried about getting sick. Frank James, MD, a health officer in San Juan County, Washington, and clinical assistant professor at the University of Washington School of Public Health, offered similar advice, telling Hemophilia News Today that wearing a mask is "still very important" in order to not get infected.
"You should still be wearing a mask—N95 or KN95—indoors when in close proximity to those you do not live with," James explained. "Masks keep the viral load low to prevent infection, which prevents transmission. It's a big deal."
The CDC is still recommending that many Americans wear masks indoors.
Officials may no longer be mandating masks, but the CDC is still recommending that many Americans wear them. According to the agency, anyone who is in a community where the COVID spread level is medium to high should consider wearing a mask when they are indoors—vaccinated or not. As of June 9, around 43 percent of counties, districts, and territories fall under the CDC's criteria for high or medium COVID spread.
During a May 27 interview on The Takeout, a podcast from CBS News, top White House COVID adviser Anthony Fauci, MD, urged people to follow the current CDC guidance on wearing masks where "you are having an upsurge of cases," especially as new Omicron subvariants take hold of the country.
"If you are in a region where there is a high level of transmissibility, an orange or a red zone, when you are in an indoor setting, consider wearing a mask, it gives you that extra level of protection," Fauci explained. Mask-wearing is one of the things you should do now in order to enjoy the summer holidays and gather with friends, but still "keep safe," he added.