Dr. Leana Wen: I’d encourage people to think about three factors. First, what is their medical circumstance and the circumstances of others in their household? If they are vaccinated, boosted and generally healthy — as is everyone else who lives with them — then their risk of severe illness due to Covid-19 is very low.
Second, what’s the level of Covid-19 in their community? The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new metrics, along with an easy-to-understand color-coded chart with data that are entered in real time. As we discussed in last week’s Q&A, you can think of this new CDC tracker
the same way as you would the weather forecast. If the level of Covid-19 is high, consider using additional protective measures and make sure to wear a mask. If the level is low, the risk of contracting the coronavirus is lower and you may decide to use fewer layers of protection.
Third, what are the conditions in your work environment — what safety precautions are already being taken? Some offices require proof of vaccination. Because those unvaccinated are three to five times
more likely to be infected with Covid-19 compared with those who are vaccinated and boosted, I would feel better protected in an environment where you know that colleagues around you are vaccinated.
Other conditions include whether there is regular testing. Testing that’s done at least once a week can help catch early, asymptomatic Covid-19 cases and serve as an additional layer of protection. Distancing and ventilation add protection, too. There is greater risk if you are in close proximity to a lot of colleagues in a small space, versus if you are in a large room with good ventilation.
CNN: Should people mask at work, even if they aren’t required to?
Wen: Thinking through the three factors above will help in making this decision. If you or someone in your household is immunocompromised, you may decide to continue masking at work, especially if your area has high Covid-19 levels and you are in a work environment where you are in close proximity to others. On the other hand, if you are generally healthy and vaccinated and boosted, and you live in an area with low or medium Covid-19 levels, it would be reasonable to be unmasked. The work conditions can also shape this decision. For example, if everyone around you is known to be vaccinated and you are well spread out, that could also make it safer to unmask.