Facemask – the New Normal?


Will wearing a facemask become the permanent new normal, as normal as wearing a pair of glasses? I don’t think so. There will come a time when we can let down our guard and comfortably take off our masks. However, I doubt we will toss our masks away. Here’s why:

Reason One: We’ve come to realize the enormous challenge posed by the COVID pandemic. 

Half a year ago, I was wondering whether the prediction of 200,000 deaths in the US was too high. Now, early in February 2021, we are past 400,000 deaths and hesitant to make further predictions. The turning point of the pandemic may come when we accomplish mass vaccination. However, it’s too early to put all our eggs in the “vaccination” basket.

There are multiple uncertainties:

  • Will we be able to accomplish mass immunizations so that the virus has few places to survive and spread? 
  • Vaccination provides protection to those who are vaccinated but can this keep the virus from being spread? Many vaccines, such as the flu shot, help prevent illness but do not keep carriers from passing virus to others.
  • Will the vaccines provide adequate immunity against new and emerging variants of the virus?
  • Will the vaccines be able to prevent serious illness in the most vulnerable patients?

Reason Two: We will need our facemasks again at some point in the future.

In the past decade, people from Asia have been wearing masks while most people in Western countries have not. The reason is not just cultural, it is also historical. In November 2002, an outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) began in Asia. The outbreak spread to healthcare workers.  (Does this sound familiar?) SARS was more deadly than COVID with a 10 percent fatality rate but did not affect as many people as COVID. This is because SARS is spread only by people who are symptomatic. In contrast, COVID is often contagious when people are asymptomatic, thus making it harder to detect and isolate carriers of the virus.

As a result of SARS, people in Asia became more aware of the deadly threat posed by airborne viruses, especially when there is a high population density. COVID has made it clear to people in Western countries as well that masks are a very important first line of defense. SARS, MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) and COVID-19 all occurred in the last twenty years and are all caused by Corona viruses. 

We are not sure what the year ahead will look like but for now, we must continue masking, physical distancing, and hand washing.  Next week we will discuss what mask/masks make the most sense for you. For instance, do you need to “double-mask?”  In the meantime, please remember to wear your facemask correctly and avoid touching the mask as much as possible. Be especially careful to cover the nose completely. A mask not covering the nose may actually be worse than no mask at all!! 

Dr. [email protected]

PS. I’m here to support you. Be connected, stay strong. 

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  1. Pingback: How to pick the right mask for you – COVID-19 Caregiving

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