On a warm Sunday afternoon, Cynthia Morvillo of Chelmsford was among those running errands at the Wal-Mart in Drum Hill Mall in Chelmsford.

Morvillo wears an N95 mask and says, “I wear a mask for many reasons — most importantly, to protect myself and to protect others.”

Sars-cov-2 (the virus that causes COVID) is certainly of concern, but so are influenza and other respiratory viruses.

Fall and winter bring more reasons to mask up

The U.S. has seen 300,000 to 500,000 cases during The summer, Ellerin said. But in The fall and winter, Ellerin said that number could approach 1 million as the school year gets underway, more people spend time indoors, and seasonal gatherings take place.

Although a few other shoppers could be seen wearing masks – perhaps 10-15% – most did not.

Asked about being in the minority, Mr. Morvelo said: “It doesn’t bother me,” adding, “It’s for safety.”

Huy Chhor of Lowell also wore a mask outside the Staples office supply store in Chelmsford. “For me, it was too easy to catch the virus,” said Chhor, who noted susceptibility to respiratory infections. “Some people are different. For me, it’s different.”

Ellerin is also an epidemiologist who works to reduce the spread of infectious diseases. “Do I think we should wear masks all the time? No, I don’t, “Ellerin said. “You can say, ‘Listen, masks are causing problems for schools… Some children have not seen their teachers’ faces. ‘”

Ellerin noted that “we are in a very different place in the pandemic… From the spring of 2020, people were dying left and right, and hospitals were overwhelmed.”

Having said that, Ellerin observes, “we still have plenty of novel coronaviruses… People get infected multiple times, three or four times.”

As tracked by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the summer surge, driven primarily by the Omicron sub variable, particularly BA.5, began to taper off. Still, the U.S. currently averages more than 88,000 new cases per day and nearly 400 COVID deaths per day, according to tracking data.

Ellerin welcomed the Food and Drug Administration’s August 31 approval of new booster vaccines aimed at combating the highly infectious Omicron subvariant responsible for most of the recent spread.

Still, COVID remains flexible, adaptable, and constantly changing. “The vaccine can’t keep up with the mutated virus to the point where it reduces transmission,” Ellerin said.

But there are many reasons to be hopeful, including the availability of antiviral drugs. “Our toolbox is more complete now than it used to be,” Ellerin said. We have vaccines and boosters that reduce the risk of serious illness.”

Looking ahead to the fall and winter, and the expected peak of the respiratory virus season, Ellerin said: “We can do this. We know we’ve done it. This isn’t our first time, our first rodeo. We’re going to do it.”