Across the globe, national and local governments are already beginning to relax their face mask guidelines. This is in line with the recent mandate provided by the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control which states that vaccinated people can remove their masks in certain indoor settings and that unvaccinated people can frequently go without mask outdoors. For the period of the health crisis medical face masks have functioned as a defensive barrier against COVID-19. Medical face masks have served as a source control through blocking the inhalation of aerosols and respiratory droplets carrying the infectious coronavirus. With that, medical face masks have effectively protected others from being exposed to someone’s probable infectious droplets.
Now that countries all over the world are building immunity through vaccinations, there are a number of people who are thinking if we will still be needing medical face masks when the pandemic is already over. In other continents, like Asia, people have worn masks for decades. In those places, wearing face masks was already a pre-pandemic norm, especially when someone is sick because it was seen as a courtesy in order to stop microorganisms from spreading to others. On the other hand, countries in the west like the United States will most likely observe mask wearing decline as immunity increases, however many experts agree that people in the west will still probably choose to wear masks even after the pandemic ends.
With that, to understand further what is the importance of medical masks, here are the roles of medical face masks after the pandemic:
Prevention of Common, Serious, and Seasonal Illness
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that medical face masks are effective in preventing the transmission of communicable disease. This applies not only in COVID-19, but also usual illnesses such as flu and common cold. It must be noted that flu has a significant impact around the globe. In fact, in the US, there are about 150,000 to 820,000 hospitalizations and up to 60,000 deaths. With that, one of the most significant roles of medical face masks after the pandemic is protection against such common and seasonal illnesses. Studies have shown that since millions have been wearing masks, the common cold and flu virus in the last year was significantly less prevalent compared to years before. During the flu and cold season, medical face masks can significantly decrease the burden of disease that we observe every year. Asian countries actually have a long history of people wearing masks in order to stop airborne transmission of infections. In 2003, this practice became even more commonplace in Asia after the SARS outbreak. Hence, because medical face masks have already proven its efficacy during the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems likely and sensible that some people would still continue to wear masks in public settings to protect themselves from getting flu or colds, way after the immediate threat of COVID-19 has subsided.
Helps with Social Anxiety and Other Mental Conditions
Studies have observed that wearing face masks in public settings help and provide relief in people who are dealing with social anxiety and other mental health conditions. Social anxiety causes people to fear judgment or criticism from other people, and medical face masks provide some sort of physical and psychological barrier to help combat this fear. In fact, studies have shown that mask wearing was related to decreased levels of anxiety. While it may be true that there are more effective approaches for treating mental health conditions, health experts agree that medical face masks are providing benefits to some patients. It can serve as a temporary relief for social anxiety. Hence, with that, it is most likely that people dealing with such conditions would continue to wear face masks post-pandemic. However, it must be noted that if you are dealing with such problems, it is still best to consult your doctor.
For Use in Those who are Immunocompromised
Even before the pandemic began, immunocompromised individuals, such as those people who are living with HIV, with autoimmune disease, or undergoing chemotherapy, frequently wore masks in order to protect themselves from usual illnesses like the common cold and influenza which can be lethal to them if their immune system is not able to combat the infection. With that, it would not be a surprise if these individuals will still continue to wear masks in public spaces in order to protect themselves. After the pandemic, the likelihood of mask wearing will be most significant for individuals who are most vulnerable, when the disease threat is greatest, and when circumstances make them more fearful. Also, people who are living with immunocompromised individuals should also continue mask wearing even after the pandemic ends in order to protect these vulnerable people.
As stated above, people in Asia have always practiced mask wearing even before the pandemic began. Most of them choose to wear medical face masks for the sole reason that they are more comfortable going outside knowing they are protected against a wide range of infectious pathogens that other people might be carrying. Post-pandemic, this thinking will most likely also happen in some regions around the globe aside from Asia. It is probable that people around the globe would continue to wear face masks out of personal preferences.
Now that the world is creating herd immunity through doing vaccinations, people wonder if we will still be needing medical face masks. Though it may be true that medical face mask wearing will probably decline after the pandemic, many would most likely still choose to keep wearing a medical face mask in public settings in order to avoid getting sick, protect others from infections, find relief from social anxiety, or out of personal preferences. At the end of the day, wearing medical face masks provide nothing but protection, so what’s there to lose wearing it after the pandemic right?
- Centers for Disease Prevention and Control. 2021. Use Masks to Slow the Spread of COVID-19. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/diy-cloth-face-coverings.html. Retrieved on 13 October 2021.
- Healthline. 2021. Why Face Masks May Stick Around Even When the COVID-19 Pandemic Is Over. Retrieved from: https://www.healthline.com/health-news/why-face-masks-may-stick-around-even-when-the-covid-19-pandemic-is-over. Retrieved on 13 October 2021.
- Rab S, Javaid M, Haleem A, Vaishya R. Face masks are new normal after COVID-19 pandemic. Diabetes Metab Syndr. 2020;14(6):1617-1619. doi:10.1016/j.dsx.2020.08.021
- Time. 2021. Should We Keep Wearing Masks Even After the Pandemic Ends?. Retrieved from: https://time.com/5952051/masks-after-pandemic-ends/. Retrieved on 13 October 2021.