HHS Recommends Mask Mandates to Fight Long COVID

HHS is floating the idea of mask mandates among the general public to help prevent Long COVID.

If you thought you had heard the last of mask mandates, think again. A new report from the Department of Health and Human Services recommends encouraging or mandating “protocols regarding masking and social distancing in public spaces that protect people from infection or reinfection and possible Long COVID.”

The report, Health+ Long COVID Report, was released on November 21, 2022, to highlight “patients’ experience of Long COVID to better understand its complexities and drive creative responses by government leaders, clinicians, patient advocates, and others.”

With respect to the general public, it recommends, “Encourage or mandate policies and protocols regarding masking and social distancing in public spaces that protect people from infection or reinfection and possible Long COVID.”

The mask mandate recommendation is part of an opportunity identified by the report to increase public awareness about Long COVID. In the report, HHS blames a lack of mask mandates as part of the reason for the isolation that people who experience Long COVID feel about their condition. It states:

Many people with Long COVID avoid public spaces and events due to a fear of reinfection and the potential worsening of their Long COVID symptoms and health impacts. Some may experience PTSD symptoms as a result of trauma they incurred during their acute infection. The lifting of mask mandates and indifferent attitude towards masking and social distancing typical in many public and private places further isolates people with Long COVID.

Some people with Long COVID experience hostile interactions and aggressive comments from others in public because of ableism, xenophobia, racism, ageism, the politicization of COVID-19, and a stigma toward people with some chronic illnesses.

Despite the language contained in the report, an HHS spokesperson told the New York Post, “A ‘mask mandate’ is NOT a recommendation HHS made. All the recommendations included in the report were derived from the research participants ([people with] Long COVID, their caregivers, health care providers, advocates, and other subject-matter experts.)”

The report was a lengthy one and also delved into areas with recommendations for things such as personal/family support systems, school and workplace accommodations, how to access government benefits/payments/assistance, and research and data tracking.

“Long COVID isn’t one condition,” said Rear Adm Michael Iademarco, M.D., M.P.H., Deputy Assistant Secretary for Science and Medicine. “The Health+ Long COVID Report allows us to hear directly from patients so we can better understand the complexities of this multisystemic condition and enrich our understanding and response to Long COVID and its associated conditions.” 

What is Long COVID?

Post-COVID (A.K.A. Long COVID) is a variety of symptoms that a person experiences weeks or months after having been infected with COVID-19. According to Mayo Clinic:

Post-COVID-19 syndrome involves a variety of new, returning or ongoing symptoms that people experience more than four weeks after getting COVID-19. In some people, post-COVID-19 syndrome lasts months or years or causes disability.

Research suggests that between one month and one year after having COVID-19, 1 in 5 people ages 18 to 64 has at least one medical condition that might be due to COVID-19. Among people age 65 and older, 1 in 4 has at least one medical condition that might be due to COVID-19.

Symptoms can include fatigue, fever, respiratory symptoms, neurological symptoms, and often get worse with physical or mental effort.

Is it Contagious?

According to the University of Maryland Medical System, Long COVID is not contagious and conditions cannot be passed onto others. It would appear, therefore, that the HHS recommendation of mandating face masks would be to prevent people from getting COVID in the first place.

Does the COVID Vaccine Help?

The University of Maryland Medical System says that research about COVID vaccines is still ongoing and that you can still get COVID even if you have been vaccinated. It notes, “A vaccine’s ability to prevent post COVID-19 condition depends on its ability to prevent COVID-19 in the first place, according to WHO.”

It further adds that “vaccines are intended to prevent severe illness and death from COVID-19.”

According to the CDC, people who are not vaccinated are more likely to develop Long COVID symptoms.

Do Masks Help?

I hesitated to even include this in the article because of how highly politicized the topic has become. The honest answer probably is, “it depends on who you ask.”

The government certainly thinks that they do, hence agencies such as CDC and HHS are still pushing to get people to wear masks and even talking about mandates again.

On the other hand, President Biden said not long ago “the pandemic is over” when asked about it during an interview in September on 60 Minutes. “The pandemic is over. We still have a problem with Covid. We’re still doing a lot of work on it. It’s – but the pandemic is over,” Biden said. That would seem to imply that things such as mask mandates and a federal employee vaccine mandate would now be considered passé.

Mayo Clinic echoes the CDC about face masks and says that they help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Mayo indicates that medical masks, KN95 masks, and N95 masks are the most effective, and N95 masks offer the best protection of the three types to the person wearing them. “An N95 offers the highest level of protection. It offers more protection than a medical mask does because it filters out both large and small particles when the wearer inhales,” according to Mayo Clinic.

I read this information and concluded that it’s a decision that each person should probably make for himself/herself. If you are concerned about getting sick, it sounds like a mask would potentially help filter the air you breathe. If you aren’t worried, then don’t wear one. Even if you are spreading something, the people wearing the masks would be protected anyway based on the descriptions of the masks.

The best approach? Do your own research about COVID-19, masks, vaccines, etc. and decide what makes the most sense for you and your situation.

About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of FedSmith.com. He has over 20 years of combined experience in media and government services, having worked at two government contracting firms and an online news and web development company prior to his current role at FedSmith.