Here we go: CDC chief now touting mask-wearing to prevent transmission of flu -- and common cold

This isn’t the only nudge lately in major media to keep masking as we pivot from pandemic COVID to endemic COVID. But it’s the most noteworthy one, given the source.

Where on earth is Rochelle Walensky getting the idea that masking can reduce your risk of infection by up to 80 percent? After a few months, even the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are less effective against infection than that.

Does she mean N95s specifically or any ol’ mask, including the two-dollar one you might buy at CVS?

What the hell is this?

A Canadian study published a few months ago reported N95s are capable of filtering out 60 percent of exhaled aerosolized particles but surgical and cloth masks filtered just 10-12 percent. A mega-study in Bangladesh found that surgical masks were useful in reducing the rate of symptomatic COVID, particularly as more members of the community wore them, but didn’t claim anything like 80 percent reduction.

A month ago I asked an older relative when he planned on getting boosted and he told me he was in no rush because he wears his cloth mask when he’s around people — which is nutty. Masking is a poor substitute for vaccination, especially in senior citizens. But who can blame him for believing otherwise when the head of the CDC is holding up masks as a prophylactic against transmission on par with immunization?

Frankly, why ask Americans to get their shots at all if masks are up to 80 percent effective?

As for Walensky nudging people to mask up to prevent flu and the common cold as well, I’m less exercised about it than, say, Phil Klein is. Not because I think mandating masks during flu season is justified but because I think anyone who supports that idea is entertaining a pipe dream at this point. Even Democrats can’t be so blind to the results in Virginia, particularly the craving for normalcy among parents whose kids were kept out of school, that they might try to *expand* precautions to other diseases rather than begin rolling them back for COVID as the country learns to live with the virus. They might want to expand them, but political reality is what it is.

Klein points to this piece by a doctor writing for ABC, who cited flu season and the existence of other viruses as reasons to continue masking even after getting a booster from COVID. The impulse among some health experts to mask in perpetuity is a real thing:

We will see people masking in the years ahead to reduce their risk from flu — but not because a mandate’s in effect. It’ll be because some Americans have gotten used to masks and no longer feel a stigma about wearing them in public. Ask Joe Scarborough:

“I’ve said it before, I hate wearing masks,” Scarborough said. “I just hate them. At the same time, it’s been really nice not having the flu for a couple years now. When I’m outside, I’m not going to wear a mask unless people are completely crowded around.

“We’ve flown so many years and you hear somebody coughing and sneezing and you’re like I’m going to have the flu and halftime you did,” he added. “That is a great thing that – and it is one place where, man, if I can go another year and a half, two years without the flu, I’ll put that mask on in a plane where are whether I like it or not.”

If it’s true, as some scientists have predicted, that endemic COVID will kill 40,000 to 100,000 Americans each year, that alone will be plenty of reason for risk-averse people to keep masking in close quarters regardless of vaccination status or whether they’re wearing a high-quality mask that might meaningfully cut their risk. As we get further out from the pandemic, with the virus hopefully becoming less lethal, masking will become more of a cultural signifier than a serious risk-reduction measure. The “safety first” crowd will continue to wear them, the “let ‘er rip” contingent will scorn them. Ideally, we’ll eventually reach the point where the threat from COVID and flu is small enough that the number of people who are still masking begins to drop appreciably and the holdouts start to feel silly. That’ll be the stigma returning at last.

Maybe in five years? Too much to ask?

Maybe. I’ll leave you with this.