ATLANTA — For more than two years, millions of people masked up in an effort to avoid contracting COVID-19.
Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows wearing a mask could help keep people from breathing in the respiratory virus when risking infection in crowded environments.
As states and cities have ultimately done away with mask mandates in the wake of lower infection rates, face coverings are mostly a thing of the past.
However, some believe that wearing masks for two flu seasons has now made society more susceptible to getting sick.
Did masks decrease our immunity?
No, medical data and doctors say that mask-wearing doesn't decrease one's immunity.
WHAT WE FOUND
This kind of question comes from what scientists call the "hygiene hypothesis." It's the idea that people who are exposed to a variety of germs in childhood develop better immunity.
Tia Neely, a Piedmont Healthcare family medicine physician, said bodies maintain a memory that if exposed again in the future one is ready to fight that infection.
Dr. Kelly Cawcutt with UNMC Nebraska Medicine echoed a similar sentiment and said it won't matter how long one wore a mask, one's body will still protect itself.
"In general, our immune system responds quickly to new pathogens, it doesn't weaken over time and if you've been close to other viruses -- again thinking about RSV or something that's more familiar to people like chicken pox -- if you've had some exposures in the past it doesn't forget that over time," she said in a medical briefing.
The experts said that even while a majority of the nation was masked, people still made it to the grocery store, walked the dog, or got outside in some way over the course of the pandemic. This is enough exposure to outside bacteria for a body to function optimally.
Going back to the hygiene hypothesis, some people are asking about the youngest members of society masking up, especially as children were not in school or were born during the peak of the pandemic.
Dr. Jarne Morgan, a cardiologist and clinical director of Piedmont Healthcare's COVID task force, said it's more about how the infection spreads.
"When we began to use our masks (it was) not because we have more RSV but because there were more children who had never been exposed to it," Dr. Morgan said. "So now it spread more widely than it would have previously because the children hadn't been exposed. In other words, it caught up in one year the two years (worth) of infection."
So it's verified -- masks did not decrease immunity.