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Not Just with Covid, Masks Must be Resumed Due to Flu and RSV

Hospitals were overwhelmed by an increase in Covid-19 cases as the holiday season last year began. The flu, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and Covid have combined to overrun hospitals this year. A concerning indication that the present flu season will be the worst in years is the highest number of flu cases that are filling pediatric hospitals almost to capacity in addition to RSV. Pediatric hospitals have requested that President Joe Biden announce an emergency to provide additional resources to handle the current surge of patients. The hospitals are facing an extremely severe crisis.

This “tripledemic” of the flu, Covid, and RSV serves as a warning that periodic respiratory viruses continue to pose a concern even after the pandemic has ended. Fortunately, we have a toolkit for dealing with them that is identical to what works to reduce Covid alone, starting with masking, the most essential and adaptable level of protection. Mask laws should be reinstituted in areas and times where respiratory infections are on the rise.

Importantly, masks don’t need to function flawlessly to make an effect. A recent study indicated that compared to Boston school districts with mandates, those without mandates had an average of 45 more Covid cases per 1,000 students and staff. Some researchers claim that widespread mask use over the first two years of the crisis was a factor in the historically low rates of RSV and flu that were observed in those years, indicating, masks are also effective against influenza.

RSV is a respiratory illness that spreads by the wind like COVID but also through contact with surfaces. It causes symptoms similar to a cold and can be extremely serious in children and the elderly. This indicates RSV, for which a vaccine is yet to be produced, can be prevented by using a mask and washing your hands frequently.

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