#COVIDisAirborne Trends: Will Face Mask Mandates Return as Covid-19 Cases Increase?

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How quickly people forget. With Covid-19 cases increasing in the U.S. on Monday, #COVIDisAirborne was a popular hashtag on Twitter. Many tweets with the hashtag tried reminding people that the Covid-19 Coronavirus is still capable of going airborne.

Why is this a reminder? After all, it’s not as if the virus had little wings and lost them because they stopped drinking Red Bull. The scientific evidence that severe acute respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-2CoV2) can travel up to six feet in small respiratory droplets began to emerge in spring 2020. Forbes May 2020 Coverage, as I did for Forbes. Face masks were soon required. There was also a push to improve indoor ventilation and air filtering. Although there have been many new variants of the virus, they have not lost their airborne biological property. In fact, the current SARS-CoV-2 subvariants, BA.4 Omicron, and BA.5 Omicron, are more transmissible that the original virus, which has fueled Covid-19 surges in the U.S. As I reported recently for Forbes.

So doesn’t that make #COVIDisAirborne seem like #CheeseIsStillDelicious or #ToiletPaperIsStillNeeded? Why did they? John Snow ProjectFeel the need to use #SARS-CoV-2 and some green to show what it can still do:

As you can see, the video encouraged you to “wear a respirator whenever you are sharing air” with others and “not one of those leaky surgical masks. A respirator that has a rating of at least F95 or N95 is recommended. This will stop you getting sick.” It also urged you to “open windows, get the virus out and get fresh air in,” meaning increase ventilation indoors. This isn’t really new advice. This isn’t new advice. The virus’s potential to become airborne has not changed significantly since 2020.

What’s changed has been people and politicians and those who happen to be both. Many face mask requirements have been replaced by arm warmers and shutter shades since 2021. Many workplaces, schools and airlines no longer require that face masks be worn. It doesn’t matter what you do if it isn’t necessary.

Jayne Morgan M.D., Clinical director of the Covid Task Force at Piedmont Healthcare Corporation Atlanta, GA, used #COVIDisAirborne for her recent flight to Los Angeles to show that almost nobody was wearing masks.

She also tweeted, “Have the courage to be the only one,” with “one” presumably meaning wearing a face mask. Yes, she used the word “courage” to do what many public health experts have been recommending that you should still do. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Mask Guidance web site still says, “Wear a Mask When There is A Lot of COVID in Your Community. Wear a mask in public places where there are a lot of people around.”

The CDC website also does indicate that, “You can wear a mask inside public places like grocery stores and movie theaters at any time. You can wear a mask in outdoor public places like parks at any time,” which is interesting. You don’t typically see public health advice saying something like “you can wear a seat belt while riding in a car at any time” or “you can wear a condom when having sex with someone whom you just met on Tinder.” So perhaps these reflects the needing to have “courage” issue, that people are actually feeling social pressure to not wear face masks.

Why is it that many public health professionals still recommend wearing face masks indoors? Umm, as the following tweet emphasized with the hashtag #COVIDisAirborne, no one has been able “cancel” the Covid-19 pandemic:

Yeah, people don’t typically say thing like, “stop all this carrying an umbrella while outside stuff. It’s reminds us that it’s raining.”

Others used #COVIDisAirborne in an effort to get more attention to indoor air quality. Poor ventilation is still a problem in many places. For example, here’s what Kimberly A. Prather, PhD, a Distinguished Professor at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of California, San Diego, tweeted:

Looks like scientists “shouting from the rooftops,” which, by the way, tend get much better ventilation than many indoor locations, hasn’t really worked. Many indoor locations still suffer from stale, “did someone fart here 10 minutes ago,” air. The following tweet suggested that money may be playing a part, surprise!

One big question is whether face-masking requirements will be required again now that another Covid-19 surge has occurred in many areas of the U.S. These surges are being fuelled by the transmissible BA.4 Omicron subvariants. These new variants may not be immune to previous Covid-19 vaccinations or other immuno protection. As I recently described Forbes. And even more transmissible? You are able to evade your immunity protection? Are you still breathing? This sounds like something you might do with face masks and better indoor ventilation.

Many municipalities are considering reinstituting the requirement for wearing a face mask. Take, for example: a July 8 press release from Los Angeles County’s Department of Public Health announcedThat day, the county saw the highest number of Covid-19-positive hospitalized patients (1 021) and daily death (18) since March 30th and February 26th, respectively. It also warned that Covid-19 coronavirus transmission levels were trending towards high and that if the county entered and remained at high transmission levels for two consecutive weeks, “universal indoor masking, in alignment with the CDC, would be implemented across the county.” However, reinstituting face mask use after a surge is already occurring can be like putting on a condom after you’ve already had sex with that Tinder date several times. You can prevent a Covid-19 surge by using face masks before it happens.

Although #COVIDisAirborne has been trending on Twitter recently, the “Covid-19 coronavirus can go airborne” concept should be much more than a trend. It’s not like low rising jeans, popular for a while before disappearing when something more interesting arrives. It’s something that’s already been established by scientific studies. The virus can be spread through the air, which is something that many people may not realize. But the SARS-CoV-2 won’t.

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