Healthy Body

Dr. Fauci Says Seasonal Mask-Wearing Is Probably Here To Stay—And That’s Good for Public Health

Erin Bunch

Photo: Getty Images / Dmitry Marchenko / EyeEm
The pandemic has upended many aspects of what we previously considered to be "normal" life, and one thing that's potentially forever changed is the way we approach contagion. Showing up for work sick and infecting the entire office used to be a totally acceptable practice, so it's little wonder we never thought to mask up in other public spaces when we were feeling under the weather. But now that we have experience with covering up to stop the spread of a virus, it's time to re-evaluate our previously lax approach to public health more generally.

In fact, seasonal mask-wearing is likely to become standard practice in the pandemic's aftermath, said Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and the chief medical advisor to President Joe Biden, on a recent episode of NBC's "Meet the Press."

Dr. Fauci pointed out that people in the United States experienced virtually no flu season this year thanks to the masking practices they adopted to combat the spread of COVID-19. He then noted that people might opt to continue wearing masks during flu season going forward in order to prevent spread or avoid infection.

While it's not as deadly as COVID-19, influenza viruses kill between 12,000 and 61,000 people each year in the U.S. And as has been the case with COVID-19, a large portion of those deaths are preventable with the adoption of public health measures such as annual vaccinations and masking, especially when sick.

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In other parts of the world, masking up when sick with anything potentially contagious is already common practice, one which largely evolved out of experiences with deadly disease outbreaks. In part, it's seen as a courtesy to others.

In the U.S., however, wearing a mask—even in the midst of a pandemic—is a contentious issue, with many Americans refusing to do so despite public health recommendations and mandates. While all or even most Americans are unlikely to adopt seasonal mask-wearing, its efficacy as a strategy for preventing infection, hospitalization, and death is proven by 2020's record low influenza numbers.

Seasonal mask-wearing is not the only public health measure that should continue beyond the pandemic, either. Best practices should include thorough hand washing, covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze, and trying to refrain from touching your face throughout the day. Staying home from work or school when you're sick should also become the new normal, as being a super spreader for even the most innocuous of illnesses is not going to win you any popularity contests.

While many of us may not have imagined a "return to normal" that includes seasonal mask-wearing, it's the least one can do to save the life of another.

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