News cycles and the lifting of COVID restrictions can make one feel like the pandemic is over. Unfortunately, COVID-19 continues to cause suffering and harm to thousands, if not millions, daily. Per the NYTimes, around 100,000 are diagnosed with COVID-19 daily in the United States, whether for the first time or infected again. Then there are the approximately 30,000 currently hospitalized for the infection today and several hundred dying. These numbers do not capture those suffering from long COVID-19 or disability from a resolved infection.
As a physician and geneticist-in-training studying the human genetics of COVID-19, I remain cautious about where the pandemic will go from here. At this point in the pandemic, there are few if any policies requiring one to wear a mask in public areas. Many hospitals still have masking policies, appropriately, although Quebec has recently lifted its mask mandate from public transportation.
Individuals riding the at-times crowded buses have no legal obligation to wear a mask to protect themselves and others from COVID-19. This is the case even when there is poor ventilation, such as when windows are closed when it rains. Fortunately, I see that there are still a reasonable number of individuals opting to mask up in crowded areas, even when it is not required.
This article is not about arguing whether restrictions were lifted too soon. Let me know in the comments your thoughts on restrictions being lifted. Given much less politicization of public health measures in Canada versus the United States, even in the Nationalist-led province of Quebec, I trust that the decision was made with close guidance from public health experts. The reasoning appears sound, given that there are more opportunities for ventilation in the warmer months, and a large proportion of Canadians are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 (83%, per OurWorldInData). This article is about individuals considering wearing a mask even when they are not obligated to in crowded public areas.
As the case, hospitalized, and death statistics demonstrate, COVID-19 is still with us. While some argue that COVID today is milder than at the beginning of the pandemic, individuals with comorbidities or risk factors for severe disease can still get very ill, even when fully vaccinated with access to therapeutic agents like Paxlovid. The best treatment for COVID-19 is not getting it all. Voluntarily continuing prevention measures when they make sense, such as when one is in a crowded bus where others may be at higher risk of severe disease than you, could save a life. Wearing a mask for 15–30 minutes is a pretty minor inconvenience. Considering how much good it can do, it seems like a good trade-off to me.
In summary, we have an opportunity to relax with the COVID-19 pandemic. We can expect it to again rise to prominence this coming winter. There are steps that we can do, at minimal inconvenience to ourselves, that will protect ourselves, our loved ones, and our neighbors. If you liked this article, be sure to give me some claps, it will help more see my writing so we can all think more deeply about health together.