Nevada’s mask mandate has been lifted. Now what?
On what has been a long and uncertain road leading to the governor’s recent announcement about Nevada’s mask mandate being rolled back, there are still questions about what this new recommendation means for public health and our future as we move forward. For example, does this latest measure signal the end of the pandemic and are we really safe to say good-bye to masks?
Unfortunately, the lifting of the mask mandate doesn’t mean the pandemic is done. COVID-19 is still present, and we do not know whether the next variant will be worse, the same or milder.
The new mask guidelines from the State of Nevada are in response to COVID-19 virus infectivity rates. When rates are high in a specific area, it is recommended to still wear masks as they have been proven to provide a layer of protection from the virus. When infectivity rates trend lower, health and state officials make recommendations and respond accordingly — and that’s where you start to see a shift in restrictions such as what we are experiencing now.
For those who are unsure whether they should wear a mask or be a bit hesitant about unmasking, here are a few things to consider.
- Hospitals and health care facilities can still require masks
According to the governor, hospitals and health care facilities are categorized as health and human services facilities and can therefore make their own decisions as to whether they will require masks. In these kinds of facilities, patients can range from those who are acutely ill to those seeking chemotherapy to those with other serious issues. It is important that these spaces are protected. Keep this in mind and consider providing a level of protection for yourself and other patients around you before entering.
- Embrace how you feel mentally
While others are celebrating our latest public health milestone, some may be hesitant
and even fearful to remove their masks. If you are hesitant, embrace how you feel and ask yourself: Why are you wearing a mask? Embark on your own journey to either take it off when you feel comfortable or continue wearing it, but allow yourself grace along the way to do what you feel is best for your health. Also know that it is OK to continue to wear a mask if you are in a space where you are unsure of the vaccination status of others.
- Take personal responsibility
As we enter this phase of pandemic, it’s important that people are thoughtful and continue to utilize measures and precautions that we know can help prevent transmission and infectivity. While unmasked, be mindful of facilities that still require masks. Additionally, if you are ill and experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, exercise your personal responsibility by staying at home, wearing a mask to protect others in your home and seeking appropriate care. Also, inform those around you or have come in contact with that you are ill or have the virus so they can get tested.
- Learn to live with the virus
The next phase of the pandemic is learning to live with the virus. We now have a better understanding of what works and what doesn’t. Vaccines continue to help save lives, yet as a whole, they’ve been slowly adopted. Moving forward, we will have to consider how these attitudes will affect public health and shape our society. For example, will there be a move to normalize having antigen tests or vaccine requirements at family or social events? I believe we are going to have to learn how to reconnect with each other as humans and determine the best way to protect our families as we prepare for what’s to come — whether it’s good, bad or indifferent.
- Invest in health literacy
Initially, there was a dismissal of the virus and a normalization of death. There existed a notion that COVID-19 fatalities only happened to those with underlying health issues. Now the virus has been elevated as a disease, rather than something that’s just minor. The effects of COVID-19 have been found in some patients to be long-lasting, with symptoms present for months and possibly years. With that in mind, there is a need to continue to invest in health literacy to provide our communities with the most credible and accurate information on the virus (and all health care topics) to help fight misinformation. What you consume and the decisions you make based on it, can serve to affect –– and protect –– the health of your family now and in the future.
Dr. Bayo Curry-Winchell, M.D., M.S., is a board-certified, family physician practicing urgent care medicine based in Reno, where she serves as regional clinical director for Carbon Health and medical director for Saint Mary’s Medical Group. She is also a member of the Reno mayor’s task force and Governors Medical Advisory Team on COVID-19.