HHS recommends mask requirements to fight long COVID

If you thought you heard the last mask bid, think again. A new Department of Health and Human Services report recommends “encouraging or mandating masking and social distancing protocols in public spaces that protect people from infection or reinfection and possible Long COVID.”

The report, Health+ Long COVID Reportwas released on November 21, 2022 to “highlight patient experiences with Long COVID to better understand its complexities and spur creative responses from government leaders, clinicians, patient advocates and others.”

Referring to the general public, it recommends: “Promote or mandate policies and protocols related to masking and social distancing in public spaces that protect people from infection or reinfection and a possible long COVID.”

The mask-requirement recommendation is part of an opportunity identified in the report to raise public awareness of Long COVID. In the report, HHS blames a lack of mask requirements as part of the reason for the isolation people experiencing Long COVID are feeling about their condition. It says:

Many people with Long COVID avoid public spaces and events for fear of re-infection and the possible worsening of their Long COVID symptoms and health effects. Some may experience PTSD symptoms as a result of trauma sustained during their acute infection. The lifting of mask requirements and the indifference to masking and social distancing that typifies many public and private places is further isolating people with Long COVID.

Some people with Long COVID experience hostile interactions and aggressive comments from others in public due to ableism, xenophobia, racism, ageism, the politicization of COVID-19, and a stigma attached to people with some chronic diseases.

Despite the language included in the report, an HHS spokesman told the New York Post, “A ‘mask mandate’ is NOT a recommendation from HHS. All recommendations contained in the report were derived from the research participants ([people with] Long COVID, her caregivers, healthcare providers, attorneys and other subject matter experts.)”

The report was lengthy and also covered areas with recommendations for things like personal/family support systems, school and workplace housing, access to government benefits/payments/assistance, and research and data tracking.

“Long COVID is not a condition,” said Rear Admiral Michael Iademarco, MD, MPH, Assistant Assistant Secretary of Science and Medicine. “That Health+ Long COVID Report allows us to hear directly from patients so we can better understand the complexities of this multisystemic disease and expand our understanding and response to Long COVID and associated conditions.”

What is LongCOVID?

Post-COVID (AKA Long COVID) is a variety of symptoms that a person experiences weeks or months after being infected with COVID-19. According to the Mayo Clinic:

Post-COVID-19 syndrome includes a variety of new, recurring, or persistent symptoms that people experience more than four weeks after contracting COVID-19. For some people, post-COVID-19 syndrome lasts for months or years, or causes disability.

Research suggests that 1 in 5 people aged 18 to 64 have at least one condition that could be related to COVID-19 between one month and one year after COVID-19. One in four people aged 65 and over have at least one illness that could be due to COVID-19.

Symptoms can include fatigue, fever, respiratory symptoms, neurological symptoms, and often worsen with physical or mental exertion.

Is it contagious?

According to the University of Maryland Medical System, Long COVID is not contagious and diseases cannot be transmitted to others. It therefore appears that the HHS recommendation for mandating face masks would be to prevent people from getting COVID in the first place.

Does the COVID vaccine help?

The University of Maryland Medical System says research on COVID vaccines is still ongoing and you can still get COVID even if you’ve been vaccinated. It notes: “A vaccine’s ability to prevent a post-COVID-19 condition depends primarily on its ability to prevent COVID-19 in the first place, according to the WHO.”

It further adds that “vaccines are designed to prevent serious illness and death from COVID-19.”

According to the CDC, people who are unvaccinated are more likely to develop long-term COVID symptoms.

Do masks help?

I was hesitant to even include this in the article because the issue has become so politicized. The honest answer is probably, “It depends who you ask.”

The government certainly thinks they do, so agencies like the CDC and HHS are still pushing to get people to wear masks and are even talking about mandates again.

On the other hand, President Biden not long ago said “the pandemic is over” when asked about it during a September interview on 60 Minutes. “The pandemic is over. We still have a problem with Covid. We’re still working hard on that. It is — but the pandemic is over,” Biden said. That seems to imply that things like mask requirements and mandatory vaccination for federal employees would now be considered passé.

The Mayo Clinic reiterates the CDC regarding face masks, saying they help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Mayo points out that medical masks, KN95 masks and N95 masks are the most effective, and N95 masks offer the best protection of the three types to the person wearing them. “An N95 offers the highest level of protection. It offers more protection than a medical mask because it filters out both large and small particles when the wearer breathes in,” according to the Mayo Clinic.

I have read this information and have come to the conclusion that it is a decision that probably everyone should make for themselves. If you’re worried about getting sick, it sounds like a mask might help filter the air you breathe. If you’re not worried, then don’t wear them. Even if you spread something, the people wearing the masks would be protected anyway based on the descriptions of the masks.

The best approach? Do your own research on COVID-19, masks, vaccines, etc. and decide what makes the most sense for you and your situation.

© 2022 Ian Smith. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced without the express written consent of Ian Smith.

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