Tuesday, May 25, 2021

OK, what's the skinny on masks?

The CDC recently announced that fully vaccinated people could do away with masks indoors and out (with limited exceptions). If the change in advice has left you uneasy and confused, you are not alone. Many infectious disease and public health experts experienced a bit of vertigo after hearing this news. I would like to make things as simple as possible for you.

A few facts (and while everyone is entitled to his/her own opinion, they are not entitled to their own facts):

1. Vaccinations are extremely effective at preventing serious illness and death and very effective at preventing even mild illness and transmission of Covid-19 to others.

2. Masks, while not nearly as effective, cut down viral transmission.

3. Transmission is much more likely indoors than outdoors.

4. People with immune deficiency, from disease or immune-suppressing drugs, may not respond as well to vaccination.

So, what should you do? The easy ones first:

1. Masks are still required for all people on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation traveling into, within, or out of the United States and in airports and stations.

2. Masks are still recommended (and may be required) for anyone visiting a healthcare setting, correctional facility or homeless shelter.

3. You can safely forget the mask for all outdoor activities (unless you are packed like sardines with strangers).

4. Omit the mask indoors when everyone is fully vaccinated and/or from the same household or when you are unlikely to be close to others for an extended time.

More problematic is what to do when you are indoors in close quarters, such as having a haircut or manicure or sitting very close to strangers, as in a packed theatre. You are probably safe, but if you feel more comfortable and/or want to help protect others who may not be vaccinated, go ahead and wear your mask – there is certainly no harm in doing this.

If you have a disease likely to leave you with a weakened immune system such as cancer, or if you are taking immunosuppressive drugs, you should ask your doctor to have your antibody levels checked. There have been many reported cases of fully immunized people in these categories who have no detectable response to vaccination. (Note that many DO get protection, and there is no harm in getting vaccinated, but the response is not as predictable.)

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