Wearing a mask was new and controversial during the rise of COVID-19, but infectious disease experts are urging Minnesotans to use the practice again against an old enemy of influenza.
Michael Osterholm has criticized the widespread use of masks during the pandemic, with people using inferior masks and wearing them ineffectively under the nose and over the mouth. But the director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy wore quality N95 masks as he lectured across Europe this fall, and he stressed the difference between wearing a mask properly this winter may have to be
“I’m a loyal N95 user and wear it close to my face rather than under my nose. And I think that’s what we’re talking about,” he said. “Many of them [mask-wearing] The recommendations are so general that the public has no idea what you are talking about.”
Experts in Minnesota are encouraging effective mask-wearing during the holidays — especially among those at high risk of serious illnesses — as respiratory viruses have become widespread at this time of year.
“It’s never a bad thing not to spread your germs to other people. That’s why we use them so often in healthcare,” said Dr. Will Nicholson, President of the Minnesota Medical Association. He is also vice president of medical affairs for M Health Fairview’s East Metro Hospitals, which treated patients in emergency room waiting rooms this fall due to overcrowding.
Due to the early start of the influenza and RSV season, the conditions are already in place for an increase in infections. Minnesota on Wednesday reported 241 flu-related hospitalizations in the week ended Nov. 19 — bringing the total to 713 so far. Even during the 2017-2018 flu season, Minnesota didn’t reach that number by Christmas.
Respiratory viruses have sapped hospital capacity in Minnesota, with RSV in particular leading to infants and some older children being admitted to children’s hospitals. In the previous six days of November, more than 8,000 inpatient beds were occupied — a record for Minnesota’s hospital capacity. As of November 15, two children’s intensive care beds were available in the state.
Leading Minnesota pediatricians held a press conference Monday to advise parents on when – and when not to – take sick children to crowded emergency rooms. Generally, emergency room visits are warranted for a sick child who has dehydration, difficulty breathing, or a fever of 100.4 degrees that lasts for more than four days. But he also said that diseases can be reduced by wearing masks and prevention in the first place.
Before COVID-19, wearing a mask in public at US airports was an oddity. At the beginning of the pandemic, interest surged, leading to a shortage of elastic fabrics and, in particular, high-capacity N95 masks. Minnesota imposed a mandate in the summer of 2020 after supplies showed polls had stabilized, and during the winter nearly 90% of residents wore them most or all of the time in public places.
The associated flu season has historically been mild, and doctors believe mask-wearing and social distancing played a part. Just 35 flu-related hospitalizations have been reported in Minnesota this season, compared with 2,000 to 6,000 in a typical season. Mask wear rates fell below 60% the following winter – after the mandate was lifted – but the number of flu-related hospitalizations remained low at 901 for the 2021-2022 season.
Mask Wearing Declines in 2022 as COVID-19 Risk Eases; The latest estimates place the mask-wearing rate in Minnesota at around 5%.
The spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 remains low but stable across Minnesota, according to monitoring of wastewater for the virus at 40 treatment plants across the state. The state’s COVID-19 death toll has reached 13,663, according to Minnesota’s weekly situation update, but the risk is concentrated among seniors. Of the 131 COVID-19 deaths in Minnesota since Oct. 30, 120 have involved seniors.
Masks have fallen sharply due to fatigue and political opposition to the controversial mandate, but people should take advantage of protection now that there is additional evidence they protect against the flu and other viruses, said Dr. Mark, an infectious disease specialist in Bloomington. Sense Said -based health partners.
“While we’re not interested in masks for COVID purposes, we’ve had a flu spike that we can circumvent by incorporating masks into our everyday lives when we’re out in public,” he said. “I think it could be a device that we use intermittently and turn it on and off as we progress.”
Osterholm said he was struck by the amount of ineffective mask wearing under the nose and mouth, even at times when people don’t have to wear them. He urged people to use healthy supplies and use high-standard N95 or similar masks.
Initial federal pandemic estimates suggested that an unmasked person would transmit an infectious dose of the coronavirus in 15 minutes of face-to-face contact. Osterholm’s CIDRAP estimated, based on industry data, and suggested that cloth or surgical masks would only delay transmission by 5 to 15 minutes in this scenario.
An N95 protects a person from unmasked, infected close contact for an hour or two, depending on fit. CIDRAP estimates it would take 25 hours for transmission of an infectious dose between two close contacts wearing fitness-tested N95s.
Wearing a mask can be an extra precaution against an extended and severe flu season, or perhaps just a beginning one. In Australia, fears of a tough season arose, with an initial increase in sick children, but this quickly subsided. No severe flu seasons have been reported from other parts of the southern hemisphere.
Minnesota’s RSV and flu-related hospitalizations were unusually high for last week’s fall, but both represented modest declines from the previous week.
Health officials stress that masks work best in combination with other strategies, including washing hands, practicing social distancing, staying home when sick and getting the recommended vaccinations.