What do I need to know about changing mask guidelines?

Tips from Sesame Medical Director Dr. Allison Edwards April 19, 2022

Recent changes to federal mask mandates on buses, airplanes, and other public transportation have left many people with questions. Should I still wear one? When is it safe to go maskless? Who is at risk? Dr. Allison Edwards, Sesame’s Medical Director, breaks it down for you.

With all of the changes in federal guidance about wearing masks on planes, people are wondering – what is safe for me? What would you tell a patient who may be concerned and unsure if they should still wear a mask on an upcoming plane trip?
The last two years have shown us that masks can decrease the transmission of respiratory viruses, especially if a higher-rated mask (like a properly fitted N95) is used. While the federal mass mandate was struck down, there is no reason why any individual can’t wear a mask if they feel safer wearing one.

Should everyone still wear a mask on public transportation - trains, planes, buses, etc. – where seats may be close together?
Certain activities increase the risk of transmission of respiratory viruses. Ultimately, your risk of coming down with a respiratory virus increases when you're sitting in close proximity to others in poorly ventilated areas for longer durations of time. If you are using public transportation, take these variables into consideration: density of people, length of time in the setting, ventilation, and communal risk factors (such as: how many cases are happening in your area, are cases generally attributed to more or less deadly strains, are people who you’re around frequently more or less vulnerable, etc.)

Is there a one-size-fits all answer at this point? If not, what does it depend on (health, age, vaccination status, etc.)?
As with any health-related advice, each person is a little bit different. People with underlying comorbidities should always be more careful when it comes to respiratory illnesses like Covid. Those who have no medical contraindications should certainly get vaccinated. As always, practicing good hand hygiene decreases the risk of transmission of illness in general.

How do you recommend patients evaluate whether or not they should wear a mask in a given scenario?
Figuring out if you want to wear a mask should be a personal decision, based on your underlying health condition, the rate of spread of concerning viral illness in your community, the situation where you're headed, and other known factors that can increase the spread of the virus, like density, lack of ventilation, and increased circulating illness.

How does this (or does this at all) impact the safety of children under 5 who are not vaccinated? How about those who are immunocompromised?
How this affects those who are immunocompromised or who are unable to get vaccinated has yet to be seen. A lot will depend on how many people will continue to wear masks, how those who are immunocompromised or not able to be vaccinated participate in public endeavors, along with infectiousness and severity of circulating strains.

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