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Do We Still Need to Wear Masks?

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01/29/21—With vaccine distribution underway and many struggling with pandemic fatigue, some may wonder if it’s time to leave masking behind. But don’t toss those masks yet. Dr. Fauci estimates herd immunity could be possible by the third quarter of 2021 if we see a speedy vaccine rollout, giving hope to the thought of normality. Fauci also notes that mask usage and enhanced hygiene is likely needed “several months into the second half and beyond of 2021.” Why exactly is that?

William Haseltine, a scientist, biotech entrepreneur, and infectious disease expert, says, “We should assume that none of the vaccines under development will prevent infection or provide lifelong, lasting immunity. At best, they will limit the symptoms of those infected and minimize the number of COVID-19 cases that progress to severe illness.” Trials for Moderna and Pfizer track only the number of vaccinated people who became ill from COVID-19, not how well vaccination prevents spread. Misconceptions about that could lead those who’ve been vaccinated to unknowingly infect those around them, especially if they stop masking and distancing. “It’s really going to be critical for them to know if they have to keep wearing masks because they could still be contagious,” says Michal Tal, an immunologist at Stanford University.  

Beyond infecting others, those who’ve already had coronavirus can still get reinfected. The numbers suggest it’s not incredibly common, but some say these cases are underreported and will grow as we learn more. It’s not always easy to identify reinfection, with COVID’s ability to hang on for weeks. Immunity could last six months for some, less for others. While those reinfected may have a less severe case the second time around, death and serious symptoms have been noted among the reinfected also.

 With new strains afoot, including the variants from the United Kingdom, South Africa, etc., which may be as much as 70% more transmissible, some experts are even suggesting double masking.  “The existence of more-transmissible viruses emphasizes the importance of us upping our game and doing not more of the same but better of the same,” said Tom Frieden, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Putting a surgical mask under a fabric mask boasts “over 91% removal efficiency for particles,” said Joseph Allen, an associate professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. For individuals who can’t or choose not to double mask, infectious disease specialist Peter Chin-Hong, MD, emphasizes that one mask is better than none. “The concept is risk reduction rather than absolute prevention.”

The CDC shows that masking policies can help avert future restrictions and lockdowns—even more so when masking is combined with other interventions, such as social distancing, effective testing and contact tracing, hygiene and ventilation. When all these pieces of best practice come together, the impact is substantial.

In concert with mask-wearing, social distancing, and handwashing, contact tracing is key to preventing further infections. The AlertTrace digital contact tracing system is designed to remind employees to social distance while collecting the data needed in the event of a positive case. AlertTrace makes it easy to do so, providing a simple and affordable solution that’s endlessly more efficient and effective than traditional, manual contact tracing. AlertTrace also utilizes Bluetooth, not GPS tracking, protecting privacy and health.

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