#COVIDisAirborne Trends, Will Face Mask Mandates Return As Covid-19 Cases Rise?

2022-07-15 20:08:27 By : Mr. Ven Huang

Model Bella Hadid wears a face mask during Paris Fashion Week - Haute Couture Fall/Winter 2021/2022, ... [+] on July 5, 2021 in Paris, France. (Photo by Edward Berthelot/Getty Images)

My, how quickly people forget. On Monday, with Covid-19 cases on the rise in the U.S., the hashtag #COVIDisAirborne was trending on Twitter. And many of the tweets using the hashtag tried to remind people that, yes, the Covid-19 coronavirus is still able to go airborne.

Why is such a reminder needed? After all, it’s not as if the virus had little wings and lost them because they stopped drinking Red Bull. In the Spring of 2020, scientific evidence began showing that the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV2) can float in the air for while and travel further than six feet in the form of small respiratory droplets, as I covered for Forbes in May 2020. That soon prompted face masks requirements and pushes to improve ventilation and air filtration in indoor locations. While a number of new variants have since emerged, the subsequent versions of the virus have not lost this airborne biological property. In fact, the currently spreading BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants of the SARS-CoV-2 are much more transmissible than the original version of the virus and fueling Covid-19 upswings in the U.S., as I recently reported for Forbes.

So doesn’t that make #COVIDisAirborne seem like #CheeseIsStillDelicious or #ToiletPaperIsStillNeeded? Why did The John Snow Project feel the need to use the hashtag and some green to air what the SARS-CoV-2 still can 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. Use a proper one, rated at least N95 or FFP2. 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. Again, the ability of the virus to go airborne has not really changed since 2020.

What’s changed has been people and politicians and those who happen to be both. Since the Spring of 2021, many face mask requirements have progressively gone the way of shutter shades and arm warmers, seemingly out of style. Nowadays, many workplaces, schools, airlines, trains, and other businesses no longer require face masks to be worn. And when something is not required, take a wild guess as to what happens?

Jayne Morgan, M.D., Clinical Director of the Covid Task Force at the Piedmont Healthcare Corporation in Atlanta, GA, used the hashtag #COVIDisAirborne to point out that almost no one was masked on her recent flight to Los Angeles:

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 (CDC) Mask Guidance web page 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 are many public health experts still recommending that you wear face masks in indoor public areas? 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 to urge more action to improve indoor air quality because poor ventilation is still a big problem in many locations. 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. And the following tweet suggested that surprise, surprise, money is playing a role:

So, one big question is whether face mask requirements will return now that yet another Covid-19 surge is occurring in many parts of the U.S. This time the even more transmissible BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants are fueling the surges. In fact, these new variants look different enough that they may be able to evade any immune protection that you have from vaccination or previous Covid-19, as I described recently for Forbes. Even more transmissible? Able to evade your immune protection? Still airborne? Sounds like a job for face masks and better indoor ventilation.

Well, various municipalities have been considering reinstituting face mask requirements. For example, a July 8 press release from Los Angeles County’s Department of Public Health announced that the county that day had hit the highest levels of Covid-positive hospitalized patients (1,021) and daily deaths (18) since March 30 and February 26, 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. The best time to prevent a Covid-19 surge is, you know, before the surge.

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. People may forget that the virus can spread through the air. But the SARS-CoV-2 won’t.