CHARLOTTE, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) — Realistically speaking, masks never faded after the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Even as pandemic worries and restrictions eased, mask use waned but not totally vanished.

But as COVID case numbers are rising and other respiratory illnesses are still quite common, this common face wear is returning.

In fact, if you have seen more masks in Charlotte, you are not alone.

“Even here in our office, I see people, and I see people voluntarily wearing masks, and I think it’s great,” Mecklenburg County Health Director Dr. Raynard Washington said.

Washington has his opinion on this preventative measure from a public health standpoint, but he noted that several other viruses are going around. And while COVID is a big part of mask-wearing, he acknowledged that the masks, which became a fixture — and, at one point, a mandate — during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, are now likely being used for other respiratory issues.

“The common cold and RSV are circulating,” said Washington.

The subject of masks has been seen as controversial and has been heavily politicized since 2020. However, there are no discussions on mandates returning to the Charlotte area. Other parts of the country have instituted mandates, particularly in some school districts.

However, Washington said masks are likely to never really go away. Medical professionals have touted their use in slowing the spread of COVID but noted that protection from other illnesses may now play a more significant part in people’s decisions.

2023 is the first year where COVID-19 is not a significant concern. However, Washington noted that the lessons learned from years past would likely lead to a new normal — the increased likelihood of more people calling in sick or opting to work from home if possible, if they do not feel well, in addition to the masking.

“I think, certainly, especially on the ‘if you’re sick, stay home,’ I think that’s one of the biggest lessons that I think everyone in our community has learned as a result of COVID,” said Washington. “There’s a risk of, if you’re not feeling well, there’s a risk that you have something that’s infectious.”