Change your mind when circumstances change

VILMA GOMEZ, Spanish Writer

This article is a translation by Mario Mendez of the article here

In May 2021 the CDC said that fully vaccinated people could stop wearing the mask, but in July it recommended that they should be worn in enclosed spaces. What happened in these two months? I’ll explain using the graph of deaths in the US. (see figure). The orders for confinement and mandatory use of masks were issued during the months of April and May 2020 respectively, when the number of coronavirus deaths reached 2,500 per day.  In May 2021, considering that progress had already been made in vaccination and that at least 50% of Americans had received a dose of the vaccine, the CDC recommended that vaccinated people could be in public places without wearing a mask.

In the graph we see that the curve flattened between the end of April and the end of July 2021, i.e., there was a significant decline in the number of deaths. Then came the unexpected. Just as we were starting to get used to not using the mask, the Delta variant arrived and coronavirus cases started to increase again. As a consequence, the ICUs became overcrowded again and the number of deaths started to increase again (see graph July 2021). The CDC again recommended the use of masks in closed rooms. Did the CDC contradict itself? No, what happened is that, as circumstances changed, the recommendations changed.

We now know more about COVID than we did at the beginning of the pandemic, when it was believed that the virus could remain on surfaces. It is now known that the virus is spread through the air and, therefore, the recommendation to wear a facemask in confined spaces is based on studies that prove that facemasks prevent infected people from transmitting the virus to others by trapping droplets generated by coughing, talking or breathing. Let’s keep in mind that even vaccinated people can transmit the virus because vaccination does not prevent 100% of the infection, although what it does prevent is serious illness and death. Therefore, it is highly recommended that all people, vaccinated and unvaccinated, continue to use the mask.

Some people are understandably hesitant to wear the mask. Some feel choked, sweaty, cannot speak comfortably, and it is not pleasant to wear for eight hours or more at a time. To counteract these discomforts, and if you are convinced after reading this article that using the mask is the right thing to do, I invite you to read the following recommendations to make its use more bearable.

Do not worry if you have a choking sensation when using it. It is already known that this happens because of the mechanical effect that limits the entry and exit of air and not because the amount of oxygen we breathe is reduced. Have one or more spare masks, so that if the mask becomes wet you can change it. The masks can be reused if you do not manipulate them; that is to say, if you must remove the mask, do it releasing the strips or parts that make contact with the ear and not putting it on the chin or touching the front part. It is ideal to wash cloth masks daily or when they have been handled. Carry a clean bag with you (ideally paper or mesh cloth) that allows you to store the mask when you do not need to use it. Take breaks when you can remove your mask.

We do not know when the pandemic will end or when we will be able to consider coronavirus as a prevalent disease and therefore we must learn to live with it. What we do know is that simple measures such as washing hands, wearing a mask and avoiding crowds will soon bring the pandemic to an end and we can once again enjoy our breathing 24 hours a day without restrictions. We have already experienced confinement, death of friends, acquaintances and loved ones.  We are a year and a half into the pandemic and have less road ahead of us. We are in this together!