Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Do I need to wear a mask (AGAIN!)?

The headlines this morning were all about the CDC changing its guidelines about whether vaccinated people need to wear masks. In typically nuanced language, they tried to differentiate between those living in areas with high spread and low vaccination rates and those in areas with fewer cases and better vaccination uptake.

What should YOU do?

A few facts:

The Delta variant is now dominant. Nationally, over 80% of strains tested are Delta. Even in Massachusetts, which has one of the highest vaccination rates and lowest cases/population in the country, Delta now makes up over 50% of Covid cases.

Delta is not more deadly – hospitalizations and deaths from Delta are similar to those caused by the original strain.

Delta IS much more contagious. People infected with the Delta variant carry many more virus particles in their nose and upper airway, and thus are much more likely to transmit the virus to others. This is why case counts are rapidly rising in almost every state.

The m-RNA vaccines, in particular, are very good at protecting you from getting infected and even better at preventing serious illness and death from Delta, but they are not 100%. Even if you are vaccinated, you can catch COVID-19 and pass the virus to others.

So, my advice is:

Avoid travel to Florida and other hotbeds for now until they get their act together.

If you live in a state with low vaccination rates, I would wear a mask any time you are indoors with people you do not know are vaccinated and outdoors when you will be in crowds.

If you live in New England or another region with high vaccination rates, it gets more complicated. Life is never risk-free. Every time you get in a car, you are accepting some risk. At the same time, you do common sense things to lower the risk: you wear a seatbelt and you obey traffic laws.

What seems sensible is to wear a mask when you are indoors in crowded spaces: theatres, grocery stores, houses of worship. I would also wear one outdoors if it is a very crowded space where people are always close such as parades and stadiums. This will both reduce your risk and the risk that you could pick up a mild infection but pass the virus to others. It is thus particularly important if you have friends or relatives with poor immune systems.

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