I forgot what it was like to have the common cold. Stuffy nose, dry cough, tired, and groggy; it feels like it’s been years since I bought a decongestant instead of going to get tested for COVID-19. Masks may have been a polarizing topic over the past year, but it certainly cut down the chances of getting a cold, which has me wondering: will we see the return of masks for cold and flu season this year?

The pandemic has certainly changed my attitude when it comes to fighting off an illness. If I were to catch a cold in 2019, I would fight through it and would never consider calling out of work or wearing a facial covering. Nowadays, I feel a moral obligation to cover up and stay home if I feel the slightest sniffle coming on.

The New York Times points out that in many other cultures, wearing a mask when displaying flu-like symptoms is very common. In fact, it has been common for decades, “primarily in East Asia, as protection against allergies or pollution, or as a common courtesy to protect nearby people.”

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That habit has not quite made it to the United States. Will a post-pandemic world change that? The NYT points out that there is no concrete consensus on the effects a mask has on influenza transmission. So while the number of flu cases and the common cold was way down in 2020, it does not directly correlate to mask-wearing.

As I blow my nose for the 20th time today, I don’t feel that a mask would prevent me from getting sick, but should I be wearing one to protect my friends, family, and coworkers while under the weather?

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