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How Masking Sends a Message to Older Persons

We thought we were done with it, that we could relax and get back to our normal lives. Unfortunately, many parts of the United States, including New York City, are in the midst of yet another pandemic surge, this time from the BA.5 variant which can evade our immune systems, bypassing vaccines and prior infections. We already have BA.5.2, we do not know what the future has in store, and no upgraded vaccine until the fall.

Once again, older persons are among those vulnerable to serious illness, or even death, from COVID-19.

In spite of this latest surge, in too many places masking has turned into a personal choice instead of something we do to protect ourselves and those of us who are most at risk. Even on buses and subways in New York City, where masks are theoretically required, it’s not uncommon to see a large percentage of riders not wearing masks. Shockingly, even after more than two years of pandemic, way too many people do not wear their masks correctly, leaving their noses uncovered.

We are in the midst of a pandemic surge that leaves older persons especially vulnerable. It is time for us to change the mindset of free-choice mask-wearing into something that protects those of us who are at risk. Wearing a mask, especially a higher-grade N95 or KN95, sends a message that you care about the older persons (and the immunocompromised) around you.[1]

Part of that change should come from individuals, but part of it should also come from governments, including local government in New York City. Part of that must include a reinstatement of the indoor mask mandate in New York City. While some may yet not wear their masks, as evidenced by some people not wearing their masks on mass transit in spite of the mask mandate on MTA buses and subways, having such a mandate sends a clear message that the pandemic must continue to be taken seriously in order to protect those around us.

Both before and during the pandemic, older persons, and particularly older persons additionally compromised due to their race, sexual orientation, gender identity, citizenship status, and lack of affordable and available healthcare, have been left behind and ignored—to extremely deadly consequences. By wearing that mask, we can ensure that nobody’s health needs are ignored.


[1] Additionally, it sends a message to immunocompromised individuals, infants under six months old who can’t get vaccinated, and others who remain particularly vulnerable to the pandemic and its waves.


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