There's a lot of factors to still consider.

Raven Ishak
Jan 27, 2021 @ 6:08 pm
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Within the past year, a major shift occurred in how we take care of ourselves and others. Due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, people across the world had to wear masks before they went outside, learn which masks were most effective at protecting against the virus, and understand the difference between regular masks and N95s. While we would have never guessed in 2019 that we would find ourselves in the middle of a pandemic, we also would never have guessed that we would be facing a mutation of the same virus over a year later, which is said to be more contagious and makes masks more important than ever.

As a result, medical professionals now recommend making adjustments to how you've been wearing your mask, even though there are two vaccines currently available to some people. Last Thursday, President Biden signed a federal mask mandate order stating that all Americans now must wear masks when they travel in airports and on planes, buses, ships, trains, and buses; on Wednesday, he signed an order to wear masks on federal property.

New information is coming out every day about the new coronavirus variants that came from the United Kingdom (also known as B.1.1.7), South Africa (known as 1.351), and Brazil (known as P.1). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said these new variants seem to "spread more easily and quickly than other variants, which may lead to more cases of COVID-19"—but there's still no evidence that they will cause severe illnesses or an increased risk of death.

However, it's better to be safe than sorry. So to get guidance on which masks are most effective, learn why you should you wear a mask even after getting the vaccine, and remember why you should wear a mask in the first place, see what these medical professionals have to say below.

Which masks are most effective?

While most masks are effective in preventing the spread of airborne viruses like COVID-19, some work better than others. According to Dr. Bita Nasseri, a leading Mayo Clinic-trained physician for 20 years, medical-grade masks, including N95 masks, are the most effective since they have multiple layers and droplets cannot get through as easily. "N95 masks protect the wearer from 95% of particles smaller than three microns," she tells HelloGiggles. However, she adds that surgical masks are also very effective since they are made of several layers, too. "They are considered to be 80-90% effective at reducing exposure to respiratory droplets," Dr. Nasseri explains.

Unfortunately, those DIY masks you have on hand are not exactly the best bet for protecting yourself from the coronavirus. "Any lightweight DIY masks will not be as effective since the material is more porous so droplets are able to get through the fabric," Dr. Nasseri says. "If you can see through your mask when you hold it up to the light, it is probably not as effective."

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Why should you wear a face mask?

"Face masks are important to wear since they reduce the transmission of the droplets that carry the virus," says Dr. Nasseri. "When we breathe, talk, sneeze, cough, etc. we produce micro droplets that can cause the virus to spread if you are carrying it."

However, wearing a mask just over your mouth won't do the trick. If you want to protect yourself and others from the coronavirus, Dr. Richard Firshein, leading expert in Integrative and Precision-Based Medicine and founder of the Firshein Center, says it's important to wear it over your nose and mouth. "The driver for infection is through aerosols mostly produced when a person is speaking or coughing. In effect, wearing a mask over your mouth most likely protects people around you more than yourself," he explains. "The most common route of infection, however, is through the nose (and less likely through the mouth). The reason for this is the spike protein receptor that the virus attaches to which is found in the nasal cavity at levels 10 times greater than other areas of the body."

When people don't wear masks, they are creating a dangerous situation for others. "People that wear masks but don't cover their nose create more of a danger to themselves," Dr. Firshein adds.

Do you have to wear a face mask after getting the COVID-19 vaccine?

"While the vaccine may protect an individual from getting COVID-19 symptoms, we don't know if it confers immunity, which prevents the spread of the virus," says Dr. Firshein. "It takes time to get the benefits of the vaccine—by some estimates 6-8 weeks or more. People have gotten COVID two weeks after getting the vaccine with current Moderna and BioNtech versions. So, until everyone is vaccinated, we still need to social distance and wear masks."

In addition to immunity not being completely guaranteed, the studies being conducted for the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines also haven't proven yet if they will protect against asymptomatic symptoms of COVID-19 or help lower the transmission of the virus. "It's possible that someone who is vaccinated may be a greater risk to another person because they are less likely to cover themselves or restrict themselves to less risky behaviors," Dr. Fishein explains.

So even if you receive the vaccine, it's important to still wear a mask and socially distance from others until more studies have been conducted.

If two people both get their 2-shot vaccines, would they be safe to not wear their masks around each other?

"Yes, this is certainly the hope, but again, there are many other people that share a household, and dropping our guard until data is in might be foolhardy since it could inadvertently spread the virus in a common space," says Dr. Firshein.

He adds that we still don't completely know if these vaccines will totally protect against the new variants, as more studies need to be conducted. "Remember, while the vaccines are 94% effective, that isn't 100%," Dr. Firshein says.

Should people start wearing double-masks?

"As these variants become more prevalent, double-masking specifically in common areas like supermarkets, grocery stores, mass transit, etc. should be attempted whenever possible," says Dr. Firshein. While the CDC hasn't recommended double masking yet, researchers say that "for maximal protection, members of the public can either wear a cloth mask tightly on top of a surgical mask where the surgical mask acts as a filter and the cloth mask provides an additional layer of filtration."

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, HelloGiggles is committed to providing accurate and helpful coverage to our readers. As such, some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, we encourage you to use online resources from CDCWHO, and local public health departments, and visit our coronavirus hub.