Worried about COVID-19? It may be time ‘to whip out the mask,’ experts say

A young woman wears a KN95 mask in downtown Salt Lake City on Jan. 26, 2022.
A young woman wears a KN95 mask in downtown Salt Lake City on Jan. 26, 2022. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
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Wearing a mask as COVID-19 cases continue to increase may be a good idea, especially for those who are at risk for severe illness from the virus due to their age or health. experts are saying.

“It’s riskier that you will get infected now than it was a month or two ago, without question, probably twice as risky. If you’re trying to be careful, it’s time to whip out the mask again,” Dr. Robert Wachter, a University of California San Francisco professor, told CNN.

Wachter, chair of the San Francisco university’s Department of Medicine, said levels of the virus in wastewater, now a key indicator of COVID-19 spread, have doubled and hospitalizations, already up nearly 22% nationwide, may soon do the same.


Immunity, which comes from previous vaccinations and infections, has also waned, Wachter said. “The virus sees that and sees most faces and noses and mouths are uncovered and unprotected, so it takes advantage of that opportunity.”

Dr. Jon LaPook, CBS News chief medical correspondent, said in a Friday post by the network about a masking comeback that people should be monitoring COVID-19 and other airborne infections just like they do the weather.

“If it’s raining, you will probably want to bring an umbrella. If you are in an area where there is an uptick in airborne respiratory infections like COVID, flu or RSV, you may want to take extra precautions, such as wearing a high-quality mask in indoor public spaces,” he said.

Han Kim, a professor of public health at Westminster University in Salt Lake City, said he’s already seeing a few students and staff members wearing masks on campus since classes started this week.

“Am I there yet? Not quite. I’m teaching right now and I’m not wearing a mask. But I also invite my students to wear masks if they’re feeling a little uncomfortable,” Kim said. “So there are definitely some folks who are wearing masks.”

He said it’s a good idea for Utahns to “always have a stash of masks” on hand.

“I always have masks with me. I don’t really wear masks very much at all now days but I always have one with me, whether it’s in my bag, in my car, in my office, in my home, of course,” Kim said, adding there’s “no harm in wearing them.”

What’s happening with mask mandates

The COVID-19 uptick has resulted in several entities around the country instituting mask mandates, including health care facilities in New York and California as well as the Lionsgate movie studio in Santa Monica, California, and Morris Brown College in Atlanta, Georgia.

Masking is optional under Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines but is recommended, along with avoiding crowds, “in certain circumstances or at medium or high COVID-19 hospital admission levels.”

Hospitalizations for the coronavirus hit more than 12,600 in the U.S. over the past week, but are at a low level in more than 97% of U.S. counties, including all of Utah. None of the nation’s counties have reported high levels, where universal masking is advised.

To hit that level, there would have to be at least 20 per 100,000 people in a county hospitalized with COVID-19. The CDC recommends high-risk individuals mask up when hospitalizations reach at least 10 per 100,000.


Claims circulating on social media that the federal government, specifically the Transportation Security Administration, is preparing for new mask mandates and other restrictions were debunked Thursday by The Associated Press.

The AP quoted Benjamin Haynes, a spokesperson for the CDC, as confirming that reports of upcoming lockdowns are “utterly false.”

In Utah, the Legislature has made it hard for state and local authorities to impose any public health restrictions. Lawmakers ended a statewide mask mandate in 2021 and last year overturned masking requirements in Salt Lake and Summit counties during a surge of infections.

“It’s tricky with masks. It’s unfortunately become so politicized,” Kim said, which has twisted what he described as a final recourse in the event of a public health crisis into the subject of “conspiracy theories” about stripping away personal freedoms.

“I always tell my students that mandates, punitive mandates — whether that is mask mandates, or shutdowns or stay-at-home orders — are a last resort for public health. That’s the absolute last resort, that we do this only when we have no other alternative,” he said.

His advice for Utahns is to keep an eye on the numbers as they assess their individual risks. For now, Kim said, even though many indicators are trending upwards, they haven’t reached ”a point where we should be super concerned.”

Two more COVID-19 deaths in Utah

As of Thursday, Utah’s seven-day average COVID-19 case count rose 18%, to about 113, while the seven-day average of people hospitalized with the virus fell nearly 15%, to about 29, according to the Utah Department of Health and Human Services.

New hospital admissions for the virus in Utah are also down, but the seven-day average of intensive care unit cases is up about 12%, to almost 4, and the percentage of emergency room visits for the virus jumped more than 13%, but remains under 2%.

Almost half of the 34 sewage treatment sites throughout the state monitored for COVID-19 are reporting virus levels of potential concern, and another four have even higher levels. Just over 17% have seen increasing levels in the past week.

Two more deaths due to COVID-19 were reported in Utah, bringing the state’s death toll to 5,413. The latest lives lost were a Davis County man older than 85 and a Utah County woman between 65 and 84 years old.


It should come as no surprise that COVID-19 has been on the upswing for the past few weeks, Kim said.

“It was going to happen. People, I think, assumed it was just going to go away forever. But we knew it was going to come up again,” the professor said, adding the virus continues to be unpredictable, with a new highly mutated omicron strain showing up just this week.

“It’s understandable, people are wanting to move on, get back to normal. The last year it seemed relatively normal by COVID standards,” Kim said. “But the disease hasn’t gone anywhere.”