Worldwide, we are seeing countries dropping masking requirements. Schools are reopening for the winter term with no masking requirements in many areas, some airlines are often no longer requiring masks, and mask requirements are even being dropped in high-risk indoor spaces such as gyms.
While this news relieves some, others see it as a backwards step. Although COVID-19 is making fewer headlines and getting less attention, case numbers are peaking in many regions worldwide and even in countries that are currently removing masking requirements.
Mask requirements may have long since been removed depending on where in the world you are. However, requirements are only beginning to be lifted in other areas. For much of east Asia, outdoor requirements have been removed for months; However, indoor requirements are not gradually being lifted.
While the freedom of choice brought by the lifting requirements could be considered a good step forward, ample evidence supports the benefits of masking indoors - especially in high-risk areas. At this time, it comes down to personal risk tolerance and responsibility to ensure you are staying protected when needed.
So, where is masking most important? Well, it depends on the location in question. For example, some classrooms are well-ventilated and wouldn’t be considered high-risk. However, some less well-ventilated classrooms would be considered medium or high-risk depending on the number of students.
However, as a general rule of thumb, hospitals, public transport, elevators, and banks are considered high risk, Medium risk locations include movie theatres, gyms (depending on the layout and ventilation), supermarkets, street markets, and restaurants. Finally, locations such as private vehicles, streets (outdoors) and personal residences are considered low-risk (source).
While it’s known the best protection is present when both susceptible and infected individuals are wearing masks, any individual can achieve a significant level of protection by correctly wearing a respirator (such as an N95, FFP2, or equivalent). While we often hear the argument that masks aren’t effective unless worn by everyone, research has proven this to be far from true - of course, everyone wearing a mask is the ideal scenario.
With that said, we can protect ourselves and make a conscious decision about when we should be donning a mask. Even if we can only control our own mask-wearing, we can give ourselves significant protection when needed.
It’s good to have the freedom of choice, but it’s also important to have a high-filtration mask or respirator on hand for when they are needed. We still don’t fully understand the risks and complications of long COVID; all we know is that avoiding COVID is the best approach.