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When will it be time to trash the masks?

After nearly 2 years of mask-wearing, a lot of us are wondering when we’ll finally be able to shelf those perky masks once and for all. Hopefully, the end is near.

In this blog, we'll tell you what the experts are saying about when we can stop wearing masks, what we know about new variants, and how to handle the upcoming holiday season.

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What the experts are saying:

All of the experts on COVID-19 agree that wearing a mask is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of the disease. But we’re all wondering when these mask mandates will end… Will we be wearing masks forever? Luckily, probably not.

Many scientists are reporting that mask requirements will be safer to ease early next year, after most children have been vaccinated and the holiday season is past.

Some public officials are already planning an endgame for mask-wearing. The mayor of DC has already announced that indoor mask requirements will be loosened. Lawmakers in Florida have passed a bill that bans school mask-wearing mandates. And New York City’s mayor-elect wants to lose the mask mandates once public health officials determine it’s safe.

But, many experts agree that fully listening mask requirements now would be premature. Especially now as we begin to enter the winter months where people spend more time inside, the holidays cause many to travel, and respiratory diseases like the flu tend to circulate more easily. Maybe by early spring, in February or March, we will be able to hang up our masks for good.

COVID-19 Update:

Unfortunately, cases are starting to rise throughout most of the country. The daily average of new cases is still below that of last year, but we are still seeing a 33% increase from two weeks ago. In the past two weeks, cases have increased in 39 states and in D.C. Outbreaks in the Midwest and Northwest are cited as being the most responsible for the growing national averages, with many weeks of high case numbers. The good news is that the daily average hospital admissions have not risen, and the daily fatalities have dipped by 1%.

However, the newest COVID-19 variant, Omicron, is causing some concern among COVID-19 researchers. The World Health Organization has labeled it as a "variant of concern", which is the most serious category. Here's what we know so far:

  • Omicron has 50 new mutations we have not seen in any previous COVID-19 variants. Of these 50 new mutations, 30 of those are to the spike protein that is used by the coronavirus to attach to human cells.

  • The new mutations may cause Omicron to spread more quickly than past COVID-19 variants, but early data is very limited. As of November 29th, Omicron is present in 15 countries, including the United Kingdom, Germany, Canada, and South Africa.

  • There is some fear that the new mutations on Omicron's spike protein may allow it to evade protection provided by the vaccines. But, as of now, this is all speculation. Where Omicron was first discovered, in South Africa, vaccination rates are very low, which allowed the variant to spread rapidly. More research is needed to discern whether Omicron can actually evade antibodies produced by the vaccine.

  • As of now, there is no evidence that Omicron causes a more severe infection than past COVID-19 variants. In fact, the initially reported infections have been among younger people who had a more mild illness. However, it will likely take weeks to fully understand the severity of Omicron.

  • The WHO's Technical Advisory Group on Virus Evolution (TAG-VE) has confirmed that people who have previously been infected by the coronavirus could become more easily reinfected by Omicron.

How to handle the upcoming Holiday season:

Thankfully, it’s no longer the 2020 holiday season, so we can all breathe a little easier. This year, 80% of people ages 12+ have at least one vaccination. And these high vaccination rates mean we can be a little more relaxed about traveling to see relatives and seeing our older relatives. However, there are still several reminders that will help to keep your family gatherings safe:

  • If you’re seeing grandparents or other people older than the age of 80, be sure everyone in attendance at the event is vaccinated. Older adults have an elevated risk of having a higher risk of severe COVID-19 infection and death. In August, the CDC reported that vaccinated people aged 80+ are around 13 times more likely to die from COVID-19. This is why the booster shots are so important.

  • Get a booster shot if eligible. Now, COVID-19 vaccine booster shots are recommended for adults of all ages. The booster shot can boost immunity from 63% (which is common 8 months after 2nd dose) back up to at least 94%.

  • Have family members take rapid tests before arrival. Now that rapid tests are widely available at most pharmacies and hospitals and take home rapid tests can be purchased from most drug stores, asking your guests to take a quick rapid test before attending isn’t all that unrealistic. While the tests aren’t 100% reliable, they will still add an additional layer of protection if taken the morning before an event.

  • Take precautions if there will be a young, unvaccinated child in attendance. If children ages 5-11 have been vaccinated, they likely will not be eligible for their second dose until after Thanksgiving. So, if there will be both a young child and an older, vulnerable adult in presence at an event, it may be worthwhile to have the child skip school for several days beforehand.

Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have created a very handy tool to help people discern the risk that they will be exposed to COVID-19 at an event. All you have to do is input the event size and the vaccination rate of the state your event is in. For example, if you attend a 15 person gathering in Blacksburg, Virginia, you’re risk level of encountering COVD-19 is 11%.

Current VDH mask recommendations:

As a reminder of when and where you should be wearing masks, we have compiled the Virginia Department of Health’s current recommendations:

For the vaccinated:

  • You must wear a mask:

    • When using public transportation, per a federal order

    • Indoors at K-12 schools or other indoor child care settings

  • You should wear a mask:

    • In indoor spaces where community spread is substantial or high

    • In healthcare settings, like a doctor’s office or hospital

  • You don’t need to wear a mask:

    • When outside

For the unvaccinated:

  • You must wear a mask:

    • When using public transportation, per a federal order

    • Indoors at K-12 schools or other indoor child care settings

  • You should wear a mask (and practice physical distancing):

    • In all indoor public events

    • In a crowded outdoor event

  • You don’t need to wear a mask:

    • When in an uncrowded outdoor space

The Johnson Center recommends a multi-faceted plan to obtain optimal health- encompassing biological and genomic testing, nutritional supplementation, and dietary and wellness plans. To learn more, click here. If you have any more questions about your path to optimal health, email our office at or call 276-235-3205.

The Johnson Center for Health services patients in-person in our Blacksburg and Virginia Beach locations. We also offer telemedicine for residents of Virginia and North Carolina!