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Can ‘Strategic Masking’ Protect Against COVID-19, Flu, and RSV? > News > Yale Medicine

It can feel lonely when you’re the only person wearing a mask in the grocery store, an office meeting, or wherever you gather with other people. You may wonder if wearing a mask to protect against COVID-19 is even worth doing, as many of those who have gotten the virus recently have been reporting mild symptoms.

But the coronavirus is still infecting people. This summer brought an uptick in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, and a winter spike is also possible, based on the virus’s seasonal behavior in previous years. There are also two new Omicron subvariants, EG.5 (Eris) and BA.2.86 (Pirola), which may be more transmissible than their predecessors.

And SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, isn’t the only highly contagious virus that makes people sick. Flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) have also overwhelmed hospitals. Together, the three diseases—and the uptick in cases of each simultaneously during fall and winter–have become known as the ‘tripledemic.’

Across the U.S., there has been a smattering of new mask mandates in schools, businesses, and other places in response to recent COVID-19 surges; however, infections and hospitalizations are still lower than in previous years, and no one expects the country to go back to widespread masking, which means that people will have to decide how to best protect themselves.

“People can make their own choices about wearing masks to protect against COVID-19 and other respiratory diseases now,” says Karen Jubanyik, MD, a Yale Medicine emergency medicine specialist who has cared for patients with COVID-19.

As a result, some people are adopting what’s called “strategic masking”—wearing a mask when and where it might matter the most. While most people don’t want—or need—to wear a mask all the time, “It makes good sense to be strategic about it,” Dr. Jubanyik says. Individual risk for infection, the need to protect loved ones who are at high risk, personal risk tolerance, and the degree to which viruses are circulating in a given area are all factors to be taken into account.

Yale Medicine experts offered some recommendations to help address any confusion about when you might want to consider wearing a mask.

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