Renowned doctor David Agus discusses the nuances of face coverings in the workplace while some businesses weigh their necessity.

Welcome to part three in our series about returning to the workplace, in conversation with renowned physician David Agus. Today Dr. Agus discusses the high probability that many of us will need to wear face coverings, aka masks, if we go back into offices this year. Will we have to wear masks forever? Probably not. But for now, it’s not only encouraged, but may be required by some companies — even if people think it infringes on their rights. (All of this said, some companies are opening up a whole different can of worms by prohibiting their employees from wearing masks.)

Here, Dr. Agus shares his projections and recommendations about the wearing of masks in offices. The following are excerpts from our conversation with Dr. Agus. They have been lightly edited for content and clarity.   


How long will we need to wear masks?

Well, that's the million-dollar question. I would say it's 12 to 18 months. But because of the very encouraging vaccine data that just came out from Oxford University, the talk is: we could start to have a vaccine as early as this fall of 2020, which means that we could have herd immunity literally months later.

So by standing on science now, I think we have 12 to 18 months of optimization, to where we can get back to what will be a new normal, but enable things to happen that can't happen today. And I say that from a very optimistic point of view. I think there is hope now that wasn't there before. That hope is driven on data and science. 


How will the wearing of masks play out in offices?

We have to figure out a way wherein workers can feel comfortable wearing a mask. And there are going to be certain personnel that cannot wear masks. If you're on a phone call all day, you probably can't have a mask on. Your words may be garbled. So we have to figure out a way for those personnel to take their calls and not potentially infect others. 

Remember, wearing the mask is not for you. It's for others. And so we really must rethink the workplace in a very powerful way.

In summary, wearing a mask is one of many ways to help stop the spread of COVID-19. And while it may not be the most comfortable or fashionable, they are quickly becoming a way that we express ourselves. As companies figure out how to safely bring people back to work, protocols will change over time. But for now, the smart thinking is: wear a mask.

This article follows two other pieces wherein Dr. Agus discusses how health will impact the workplace and the need for contact tracing to help fight COVID-19. 


[Photo: Flickr/Jernej Furman]