To Mask or Not to Mask

Even if you don't have to on planes, trains and many other places, it's still a good idea
Masks in sky

When a Florida judge last week struck down the federal mandate requiring masks on planes and public transit, airline passengers were seen cheering as they learned they could remove their masks.

But mask mandates remain in place in some parts of the U.S., including New York City. And even if you’re not required to wear one, should you?

Susan Lopez, MD, a hospitalist at Rush University Medical Center, said that in mass transportation spaces, masking is still an effective way to protect ourselves from COVID-19, even if others are not.

“Although the federal mandate is now lifted, it’s always safer to wear a mask when in confined spaces,” Lopez said. “Even though it’s safer, of course, for everyone to be wearing a mask, even just one-way masking — meaning you’re the only one wearing a mask — is going to provide a good level of protection.”

Lopez particularly recommends masking in all public spaces for people in higher-risk groups, or those who live with someone in higher-risk groups. The list includes:

  • People over age 65
  • People with cardiac problems like hypertension or heart failure
  • People with lung conditions like COPD or asthma
  • People with liver diseases
  • People with weakened immune systems
  • People who are unvaccinated or who have young children who are unvaccinated

“When talking to individual patients, I think it really comes down to individual risk factors — are you in that higher-risk category,” she said. “Or do you have someone in your family in a higher risk category? Are you immunocompromised or are you living with someone who’s immunocompromised? Doing your best to take care of yourself and your family members is key now.”

As the public continues to respond to shifting regulations, Lopez hoped that the wearing a mask could come to be seen as an individual’s health care choice. 

“Hopefully we’ll get to a point where people see a mask and are respectful of someone wearing a mask,” she said.

“You never know what someone is going through, what personal issues, health conditions, or what their family members may be going through. So just be respectful of people wanting to protect themselves or others.”

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