Authorities Urge Masking Against ‘Tripledemic’

Will anyone listen this time?

NPR (“Authorities are urging indoor masking in major cities as the ‘tripledemic’ rages“):

Public health officials are revisiting the topic of indoor masking, as three highly contagious respiratory viruses take hold during the holiday season.

Over the past few weeks, a surge in cases of COVID, the flu and respiratory syncytial virus — known as RSV — has been sickening millions of Americans, overwhelming emergency rooms and even causing a cold medicine shortage. The triple threat has been called a “tripledemic” by some health experts.

Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, noted this past week that the simultaneous combination of viruses has been straining healthcare systems across the country.

The center’s map that tracks COVID-19 community levels has been showing more orange recently, a color indicating an area of “high” infection, Walensky told NPR’s Alisa Chang on All Things Considered.

“To protect communities in those circumstances at those high levels, we have recommended and continue to recommend that those communities wear masks,” she said.

CDC’s latest COVID-19 community level map indicates that over 9% of counties in the country were considered to have a high risk of infection. The federal agency recommends that people living in those areas practice indoor masking. Generally, children under the age of 2 are not recommended to wear face coverings.

Nearly every state on the map released Friday included at least one county where the COVID-19 community level is high or medium. Hawaii, Maine, New Hampshire and the District of Columbia are the only U.S. jurisdictions where all of its counties have low community levels.

You can look up your county on the CDC’s page here to see what the local risk level is and whether masking is advised where you live.

It turns out that the area where I live is in the “low” risk category, so masking isn’t being advised here. Even though we had high rates of compliance during not only the height of the pandemic but even well after everyone over 12 who wanted a vaccine could have gotten one, I’m dubious that most people will be willing to go back into masks at this point.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. MarkedMan says:

    I’m not regularly masking, but when I fly this holiday season I’m going to mask up on the plane and in crowded sections of the airport. Tripledemic aside, I’ve realized just how often I got sick during or after traveling in the past. If I can change that, I will.

  2. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I still mask anytime I am in a store. Masked up at my granddaughter’s wrestling meet Friday night. I didn’t mask up at my DIL’s 5 mi race. Outdoors and no crowding.

    We don’t go to restaurants except for take out. The last time I was in a movie theater was 14 years ago when we were waiting for my eldest GD to be born. TBH, we really don’t miss going out to those kinds of places. Any live music I might catch is in an outdoor setting, so no need for a mask there either.

  3. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Just out of curiosity I checked out the CDC page. Washington Co where I live, Franklin Co, Crawford Co, STL city and county, all locales I frequent from time to time, are all at Medium Risk level. Yeah, I’ll continue to mask up my fully vaxed and COPD’d body

  4. Tony W says:

    I think masks are with us forever, to some level. Southeast Asian countries have done this for decades, and we’re finally catching up in America.

    Of course, there will be some populations who will refuse ‘cuz freedom & stuff, and fortunately for America, those populations vote overwhelmingly for Republicans.

  5. CSK says:
  6. Jen says:

    My county is at a low risk level and I generally mask anywhere that is crowded, but I don’t go to many crowded spaces so it’s not a big deal. [shrugs]

  7. Cheryl Rofer says:

    “Low” is one portion of the exponential curve. The only way we’re ever going to get out of this is to use all precautions until the prevalence of the virus is much further down.

    So it looks like never.

  8. Ed B says:

    At 75 in Worcester county, MA, I still mask inside in public places, on airplanes, etc. I mask when I volunteer with high school students, which is a lot of my time. I am maybe one of 5 to 10% doing this where I live, but nobody gives me a hard time about it, and wearing a mask is not uncomfortable for me. I am fully vaccinated for covid with all boosters. Up to date on flu shots, etc. I don’t restrict my activities. I have had one cold since this whole thing started, and that was 3 days in Eastern Europe after plane rides and a river cruise. At this point, for me, just being sick less of the time is worth regularly wearing a good mask most of the time in enclosed spaces.

  9. Kathy says:

    @Cheryl Rofer:

    Having dismissed COVID early in 2020 as “just the flu,” the deranged states and politicos can now dismiss flu and RSV as “just COVID.”

  10. Modulo Myself says:

    I’ll mask on a plane, but I have stopped doing it, mostly, anywhere else crowded. At the same time, once you lose a recent habit the older habits kick in and I can see myself just not bothering in a year. I am nothing but a follower when it comes to something like public health.

  11. MarkedMan says:

    @Cheryl Rofer:

    The only way we’re ever going to get out of this is to use all precautions

    Transmissibility is just too high and occurs before symptoms appear. If China couldn’t stop the spread I don’t see how any other country could. They were literally welding apartment building doors shut to confine the infection. The precautions are really about slowing the spread so as not to overwhelm the medical system.

  12. Kathy says:


    I find that view to fatalistic nad defeatists. See New Zealand, which used lockdowns hard and early. Even better see South Korea, which relied more on testing, tracing, and isolation as well as masking. Both have vastly lower numbers of deaths, as percentage of population, than the US.

    Regardless of what’s possible, America had one of the worst responses worldwide, as did the many countries that imitated the Colossus of the North.

  13. MarkedMan says:

    @Kathy: Sure, but NZ is due to the fact that they were able to stave off any infections until vaccines were available (being an island nation in the middle of the Pacific helps there), and then having a stellar rate of vaccination. The death rate numbers also benefitted from not having any significant number of cases until we knew how to treat it.

    But in any case, I’m not making claims that policies and behaviors won’t reduce death rates. They did and they will. The differing death rates in countries show that, but also the differing death rates in the US between red areas versus blue ones. But the vaccines we have don’t prevent the latest variants although, importantly, they do significantly reduce their impact. I’m just repeating what virologists are saying: given the pre-symptomatic transmission rates, virtually every one is going to get it. In New Zealand and China as well as the US.

  14. gVOR08 says:

    Will anyone listen this time?

    No. And why? See Ozark’s comment in today’s Forum. It’s because FOX/GOP have found it profitable to foment division over straightforward public health measures.

    Over at LGM Paul Campos quotes commenter “Cereal”,

    An upside of the non-conservative mind is the ability to apply and perceive nuance. A downside of this is the reflexive need to find nuance where there isn’t any, especially when parsing the conservative mind.

    I am so sick of the steady stream of analysis and opinion on why we’re so divided. Why do you want people to wear masks? So they won’t get sick or make other people sick. Why do you hate masks? I don wanna and you can’t make me!! See, it’s bothsides. We will remain divided until we recognize we are so divided because Rupert Murdoch and Trump and DeUseless and a bunch of other assholes want us divided and work very hard to make us so.

  15. MarkedMan says:

    @Kathy: Following up on my previous post, it says on the NZ official COVID site that about 40% of the population has had a confirmed infection. Given that many infections have mild or no symptoms it is quite likely that percentage is a good deal higher. There are 5K confirmed new cases per day. The US death rate is 7x their death rate and continues to diverge, although I think it’s worth noting that if you look at only blue states and exclude the earliest surge (which NZ didn’t experience), that death rate differential goes down significantly.

    All this shows that when it comes to death rate, policies matter, having a good national health care system matters, geography matters, basic human decency and consideration matters. But when it comes to infection, virtually everyone is going to get it.

  16. Kathy says:


    But when it comes to infection, virtually everyone is going to get it.

    Sounds like a challenge to me 🙂

    It would be hubris to say I’ll never get it (and probably get it hard the next day), or even to bet on it. So that’s off. But I intend to attempt to avoid it for the next few decades.

    Of course, there’s always the possibility I’ve already had it in a completely asymptomatic way. How would I know? But it still makes good sense to try to avoid it long term. Remember COVID parties back in 2020? Poor sods got COVID pre-vaccine (but also pre-Delta) for nothing. I wonder how many died of it.

  17. DrDaveT says:

    Curious question: those of you who say “I’ll only wear my mask on airplanes”, what are you basing that on? My understanding has been that air recirculation on commercial flights is so high that you’re at much less risk there than you were in the airport, or at Starbucks, or pretty much any other indoor location.

    Also: we were told repeatedly that the primary benefit of mask-wearing is not to the wearer, but to the rest of the world. Has that narrative been abandoned? Are we now saying that you should wear a mask in order not to get sick, rather than in order not to share your infection?

  18. Rick DeMent says:

    At this time I have have not yet been infected with Covid. I will mask up in crowded places or in stores that are crowded. We did go to the movies for the first time this past weekend but it was a carefully selected film early in the day, The Banshees of Inisherin (great film by the way if yu0 like “small” stories), We were the only people in the smallest theater of the movieplex. We did attend few events over the summer mask-less but as the winter has come on we haven’t. My relatives decided to have the normal big family gathering over thanksgiving. We decided to stay home and sure enough about 15 people who did go got Cvoid.

    While I do understand that masks are better for stopping an infected person from spreading rather then protecting me from people who are spreading, it does offer a somewhat more then zero level of protection that I don’t find at all inconvenient.

    I’m not sure it’s really all that hard to avoid getting sick unless you are just hell bent on being in crowds. But for some people I guess that is too much of a sacrifice.

  19. James Joyner says:

    @Rick DeMent: I think people just have to figure out how much of their life they’re willing to trade away to mitigate the risk of catching COVID—which itself varies considerably from person to person. Depending on your age, health, and vaccination status, it can be anything from a mild cold to life-threatening.

    I finally got it about a month ago, from my wife, so masking outside the home wouldn’t have mattered. (Although it’s possible it would have helped if everyone at her workplace masked, assuming that’s where she picked it up.) It hit her harder than it did me. For her, it was a crappy flu. For me, it was a mild cold. I have one more dose of the vaccine in me (the bivalent) but whether that was the difference, who knows.

    I’m not really a crowds guy and we don’t go out to the movie theater nearly as often as we used to. We do go out to eat just about as often and have once the restaurants opened back up later in 2020.

  20. rachel says:

    @Modulo Myself: Masking on a plane is a good idea anyway because it helps keep your sinuses from drying out.

    I’ve done if for over 20 years.

  21. Rick DeMent says:

    @James Joyner:

    I think people just have to figure out how much of their life they’re willing to trade away to mitigate the risk of catching COVID—which itself varies considerably from person to person.

    Yeah I think this is right. I wonder about how I would feel as a younger person in this day and age where being out with friends ahs a much higher value then it does to a 62 year old. I have never been overly excited about big crowds but that is more about my personality rather than anything else (I’m kind of an attention whore / introvert if you can wrap your head around that). But at this stage I think people need to make their own risk assessments (although I still think the military and heath care should be able to dictate best practices for themselves regarding vaccinations and other mitigation protocols).