Maryland healthcare centers revitalize valuable masking conversations 

By Sophie Foster  

Opinion Editor  

Hospitalizations related to COVID-19, influenza, and RSV are on the rise, and Maryland healthcare facilities have the mask mandates to prove it.  

According to CBS News, the return to masking for many hospitals and other medical centers comes after a recommendation to do so from the Maryland Department of Health. The MDH recorded a hospitalization rate exceeding 10 per 100,000 residents in late December 2023. It is likely that the mandate will be lifted once this rate significantly decreases for two consecutive weeks at minimum.  

While some find this restrictive, others still feel that it is not enough to mitigate the spread of highly infectious, airborne illnesses.  

According to WYPR, “MDH guidelines state that medical facilities should switch to universal masking and other protective measures like optimized ventilation when hospitalizations get that high.”  

The practices currently in place at most facilities, though, including the University of Maryland and LifeBridge systems, are only hybrid policies, and do not require masks in waiting rooms, cafeterias, or elevators.  

“The airborne viruses are viable for hours, and they travel around where the air travels throughout the building,” Epidemiologist and COVID Safe Maryland Volunteer Rosalie Bright said for WYPR. “It’s protecting the employee when they’re right in front of a patient, but it’s not protecting them when they’re out in the hallway, or when they’re with other staff who might be infected.” 

The rest of the state beyond these facilities, meanwhile, appears blissfully unaware of the potentially catastrophic ramifications of a lack of mitigation efforts amidst what some clinicians are now referring to as a “triple-demic” of COVID-19, influenza, and RSV. The perhaps-unwanted question that rests beneath the surface is: should we as individuals be doing more?  

It is not a secret that the general public’s interest in pulling on a mask for every grocery run or class lecture has significantly waned. Furthermore, institutions are broadly no longer requiring COVID-19 tests or reporting data, enabling a more rapid spread of the virus. These realities are not going to change — especially for Americans, whose deepest value is so often comfort.  

That does not, however, mean a healthier middle ground is not within reach. According to The Baltimore Banner, quality N-95 or KN-95 masks remain the most effective means for preventing the spread of airborne illness. It is advisable to wear these masks, in particular, when cases are high, when one is at-risk or around at-risk individuals, or when exhibiting symptoms of respiratory illness.  

Most likely, it is time for a mentality switch. Rather than viewing masks as a symbol of an era most are more than eager to distance themselves from, one should view them as a tool no different from a bandage or an ibuprofen pill.  

There is no reality in which anyone is particularly eager to be infected with COVID-19, influenza, RSV, or even less-critical cases of strep or the common cold. That, at least, should be a reassuring common ground.  

There is also no reality in which highly contagious illnesses do not float in earnest from individual to individual. This is especially the case in January’s post-holiday, back-to-school-and-work shifts, according to WBAL.  

In fact, according to WBAL, this return to masking for medical centers “is likely the new normal for the post-holiday time period when illnesses tend to spike.”   

This need not be a negative or exhausting premise. It is well past time Americans altered their masking mindset and separated it from the parameters of pandemic life that kept them isolated throughout 2020.  

In 2024, masks are a protective, preventative measure and an exhibit of community care. They protect individuals and those around them not only from COVID-19, but from much milder, nonetheless undesirable illnesses, too. Pulling one around your ears before class when your throat is sore or taking that extra precaution on your way to visit an immunocompromised relative should be the obvious choice.  

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons 

Photo caption: Many Americans have discarded face masks in favor of a hopeful grasp at normalcy.  

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