December 14, 2022

An infectious disease expert weighs in on who might benefit from extra protection from respiratory viruses this season.

Now that the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic seems to be behind us, it’s tempting to let our guards down, especially for those who are up-to-date on COVID-19 vaccinations. But if there’s one thing we learned, collectively, from the height of the pandemic, it’s that wearing a mask is effective at preventing the spread of respiratory viruses such as COVID-19 and other coronaviruses, influenza (flu), rhinovirus and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

So even though we may feel that we’re protected, should we still wear a mask to keep ourselves safe from serious illness? We asked infectious disease expert Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of Preventive Medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, to shine a light on who might benefit from an extra level of protection this season.

Who should still wear a mask?

“I think it’s important to understand that, even though masking is not universally recommended, people who are at higher risk ought to be careful,” Schaffner said. “These people can add a literal layer of protection by wearing a mask when they travel, or when they’re indoors in public group settings, like going to the grocery store or attending religious services.”

It’s important to stay informed on COVID-19, flu and RSV transmission rates in your area and be mindful of crowded spaces that are not well-ventilated. Masking is smart when illness rates are high, especially for those who are high-risk and those around them.

Schaffner identified the following groups among those at “high risk”:

  • people aged 65 and over;
  • people who have underlying illnesses such as heart disease, lung disease or diabetes;
  • people who are immune-compromised;
  • people who are caring for someone who falls into one of these high-risk groups.

“And yes, when I go out on my early Saturday shopping adventures every week,” Schaffer added, “I still have my mask on!”

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If you or your loved one is feeling sick or has a minor injury, Vanderbilt Health offers dozens of walk-in locations with convenient hours throughout Middle Tennessee—and can even bring a provider to you.

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