SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – Face coverings have become a staple of pandemic-era life throughout the world, and we may not be able to stop wearing them indoors anytime soon. CDC officials say that we are not close to the finish line when it comes to getting rid of masks.

“And all of us should wear high quality masks when in public indoor settings. This is how we can continue to create a wall of protection around our children under five as we look to safeguard their health,” said Dr. Vivek Murthy of the U.S. Surgeon General.

Last year, the CDC recommended indoor mask mandates in cities and towns recording more than 50 cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 people per day. Today, 99.9% of U.S. counties are above that threshold even with cases new case numbers dropping by 33-percent from last week.

There’s a few factors keeping masks. There’s concerns of a future variant, the BA.2 variant could raise cases again world-wide.

“What we know about BA.2 so far is that it does have a modest transmission advantage over BA.1. However, it’s not nearly the transmission advantage that we’ve seen between omicron and delta,” said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky.

But the CDC has listed factors that can help communities determine when to relax masking protocols. They recommend looking at vaccination rates and the virus’s impact on local hospitals. Springfield’s mask mandate is set to be reassessed on March 1st to see if they’ll extend it or lose it.

So, how do you maximize your mask so you don’t have to keep buying more? When it comes to N95 masks, the CDC recommends that each day when you’re done wearing it, place it in a paper bag and set it aside. The bag will protect the mask from further contamination in the air, while allowing anything on the mask to “die off.” COVID-19 can survive on surfaces for up to 72 hours.

Of note: the CDC says this method does not restore the mask back to “new” condition; they will lose effectiveness over time. However, taking these steps will extend the length of the mask’s effectiveness.