From the beginning of the pandemic, there’s been a significant amount of discussion regarding the use of masks. While it was initially confusing, ultimately, many parts of the country had mandates requiring masks to be worn in certain circumstances. As cases, hospitalizations, and deaths decreased, most areas have lifted the requirements.

As hospitalizations are increasing due to the rise of the subvariants BA.4 and BA.5, some officials are considering reinstating the mandates. However, other officials don’t think they’re necessary. Per Dr. Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease doctor who conducts public health research at UC San Francisco, “We’re in a very different place in the pandemic. At this point, I do not think that widespread masking is necessary.”

According to Dr. Gandhi, we now have widespread immunity, effective treatments, and a less threatening virus, so there isn’t a reason to stop the spread of the virus using any means possible. She further states, “We’ve started seeing a ‘decoupling’ of cases and hospitalizations.” The relationship between new infections and hospitable admissions for severe cases of Covid-19 is no longer the same.

The change is primarily attributed to the availability of Covid-19 vaccines. Even though their ability to prevent infection has decreased as new variants have emerged, they still provide protection against hospitalizations and death. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that vaccination reduced the risk of death sixfold for the almost 71% of Americans over the age of 5 who’ve had at least two doses.

The agency has recently reported that the data indicates BA.5 is the cause of over 85 percent of Covid-19 cases, and more than 41% of U.S. counties are dealing with a high Covid-19 community level. The CDC also points out that most of the U.S. population isn’t up to date with their vaccines, which they define as having completed the primary series and all booster doses recommended for that individual.

Other data from the CDC indicates that while 67% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, only 48% have received their first booster shot. In addition, only 32% of people 50 and older, who can get a second booster, have received that extra dose.

Given this information and how well vaccines have worked, public health experts encourage people to get vaccinated or boosted if they haven’t already. According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, “If they don’t get vaccinated or they don’t get boosted, they’re going to get into trouble.” He also expressed that many people as possible need to be vaccinated and boosted not to allow the virus “ample opportunity to freely circulate.” If this happens, the virus can continue to mutate.

Dr. Fauci further declared, “Right now, we have boosters that are very effective in diminishing any aspect of the infection. A virus like BA.5, which is the most prevalent circulating virus, is so transmissible that it often breaks through the protection of vaccine. But the vaccines and the boosters still do a very good job at preventing you from progressing to severe disease.”

It’s key to note that a booster designed to target the omicron variant is likely to be rolled out in the fall with the intent to broaden immunity.