Tag Archives: mask

To Mask Or Not to Mask: With the Delta Variant, Why is That Still a Question?

COVID-19 manifested itself in a new variant this year: The Delta Variant. The beginning of the variant was found in India, where the original strain has already shaken a lot of people and caused immense damage. According to the CDC, the Delta variant accounts for 51.7% of cases in the US. In India, 86% of vaccinated people were infected by the Delta Variant. This variant is a lot more severe and is spreading globally, now warning the third wave in most countries. The endlessness of the virus has brought about the recurring debate of whether or not to mask up. 

Even in the Bay Area, there has been a surge in cases. Officials in various counties have cautioned against the variant and urged people to wear masks. In June, the variant was responsible for 43% of the cases in California. The Bay Area is slowly becoming a hotspot since people have become lax in wearing masks in public spaces, giving way to the variant as it spreads increasingly. 

Some frequently asked questions

When should I wear them? How effective are they? Do I wear a mask if I’m vaccinated? 

Between those that flat out refuse to wear masks and those that wear masks in every setting, these are the string of questions that are most common. It doesn’t help that there are so many perspectives on what exactly is right to do. Do we trust the CDC guidelines blindly? Or should we take things as they come and weigh our best options out? 

When should I wear them? 

Masks should be worn when you are out of your house. Regardless of whether there are fewer people or more people. They offer a preventive measure and also keep the people around you safe. 

How effective are they? 

“The key thing is that studies show that masks help,” states epidemiologist and health economist Dr. Eric Feigl-Ding at an EMS Briefing on July 9th. Masks are efficient in protecting you and the people around you. Dr. Feigl-Ding furthered that double masking is a lot more effective.

According to an article by JAMA Health Forum, when one person double-masks and the other wears a single, 85.4% of cough particles are blocked, and when both double-mask, their exposure is blocked by more than 95%. The article further stated that after the CDC mask mandate had taken effect, COVID cases and hospitalization due to the strain had significantly decreased (by 5.5%). 

“Masking reduces 99-100 % of the infection but with the rest, it’s between 0 and 1%,” informs Dr. Ben Neuman.

Do I wear a mask if I’m vaccinated? 

Yes. There are no two ways about this. While the vaccine acts as a preventive measure against COVID-19, there have since been variants of the virus that are a lot more severe. The latest variant Delta is four times more severe than the original strain. The delta variant is also two times more transmissible than its older counterparts. This makes the vaccine evasive. Meaning vaccinated people CAN transmit the variant.

In Singapore, there were about two dozen cases where the virus carried from vaccinated people to other vaccinated people, ultimately affecting unvaccinated people.

Even in the States, the Delta variant is spreading. We have recently had a surge in cases as the mask mandate was lifted by the CDC. In the past three weeks, cases have been rising steadily. It takes five weeks to determine the results for the variant once tested.

With the variant, only a few changes and effects from the original strain are known. It has been documented that there are mutations that give the Delta variant unknown advantages on the lung’s immune system. 

Masking is not an option

Virologist and Professor at Texas A&M Dr. Ben Neuman talked about his experience as the only masker: “I’m in Texas and the only one that routinely wears a mask. Texas is one of the two clusters with the lowest vaccination rates.” 

The number of people vaccinated in the US has not even reached half the population yet. “There are pockets with less than 40% people vaccinated.” Dr. Jose Perez , Chief Medical Officer of South Central Family Health Center, advocates, “Wear a mask. Especially with people around. Anywhere.”

If this isn’t convincing you to mask up, there is more.

Hand sanitizers and glass shields offer about 0-1% aid against the vaccine if you don’t wear masks.

“People keep doing the things that don’t make a difference rather than the ones that do,” said Dr.Ben Neuman with regards to glass shields and hand sanitizers. As the virus is airborne, plexiglass does just about nothing to prevent it from spreading. Rather than offering shields, it is important to ventilate or incorporate better systems of ventilation to clean the air. But, as there isn’t any immediate action being taken for proper ventilation or disinfection, masking (double masking) works as a shield against the airborne strain. 

A google search bar recommended question on the masking:

“Do I wear my mask blue side out?”

Yes. Please wear your masks that are disposable blue side out. 


Swati Ramaswamy is a recent graduate from UC Davis and an aspiring creative writer.


 

Death of the Lipstick?

In this crisis hour, social media is keeping us entertained. Last month, a Facebook friend who lives abroad posted on her wall “Lipstick under my Mask…Must”. Another former colleague posted a photo of hers wearing a light brown lipstick and wrote “Lipstick after ages” using the lipstick emoji. Another FB friend in my list posted a photo of hers in a red lipstick bought in the midst of COVID-19.

Ever since humans have been forced to wear a mask as a precautionary measure against Coronavirus, the lipstick is facing an existential crisis. Its dirge has been sung. A visit to a leading cosmetics store in South Delhi on the occasion of my birthday in the first week of August revealed that sales have drastically dropped in the past few months from April to July. The salesgirl in charge of the Lakme counter, Babita Chauhan, informed that customers are showing a preference for nail polish and eye makeup. 

In this new world order, makeup lovers may find solace in eye shadows and nail varnishes, but these hardly equal the lipstick in status. In fact, lipstick addicts will agree that a dash of lip colour in bold reds, pinks and oranges, or even demure shades like peaches, browns and nudes, instantly lend sophistication, mystery and glamour to our everyday look. After all who can forget Marilyn Monroe’s bold red lips voted the most iconic beauty trend of all time.

A powerful statement

The lipstick is a cultural icon and stands for women’s sexuality, sensuality, desire, ambition and even femininity. In fact, references to the lipstick have been repeatedly used in writings and in cinema to convey important suggestion about women’s liberation. While Agatha Christie talks about the modern women in the throes of great social transformation in post-war British society, there are constant references to the lipstick. In fact, in one of Hercule Poirot mysteries, the little Belgian detective, who is well aware of female fashion and beauty trends, suggests a particular shade of lipstick to a woman character. 

In Satyajit Ray’s Mahanagar, in a scene which speaks volumes about female camaraderie, Madhabi Mukherjee, who plays Arati Mazumdar, tries on a lipstick urged by her colleague, the Anglo Indian Edith Simmons. Later, she wipes it off with her saree before entering the home, as middle-class Bengali women applying lipstick was unthinkable in the 1970s. In the film, the lipstick symbolises the heroine’s initial hesitance and then gradual acceptance of her role as a working woman.

The lipstick as the symbol of freedom has also been used in the Bollywood movie Lipstick Under My Burkha directed by Alankrita Shrivastava. In one of the initial scenes, the character of Rehana Abidi played by Plabita Borthakur first steals a lipstick from a mall in Bhopal and then applies it after discarding her traditional burkha. In the very next scene, she is seen wearing jeans and her bright red lips denotes a newfound confidence.

During my childhood, the lipstick was a forbidden thing lying in my mother’s dressing table drawer. Sometimes, when mum was not around, I would surreptitiously open and see the colours and even smell the beautiful pink bullet. Seeing my mother applying it before the mirror was enticing, but it was not for little girls, as she constantly reminded me. 

Walking down the streets wearing one’s favourite lip shade with the wind playing in the hair is one of the best moments many of us can think of. But sadly this is at stake with masks covering our faces.

Will lipsticks survive?

So, is it the death of the lipstick, one of the most potent weapons denoting self-love and strength? As masks in various colours adorn the shelves of shops, the lipstick has been eclipsed, temporarily going out of view. But the desire to apply it remains as strong as ever.

In my reply to the Facebook friend, I told her that I hate to see my lipsticks lying idle in makeup boxes. So, I am unabashedly wearing lip colours at home and also beneath masks. After all, one can still post pretty pictures wearing them on social media, isn’t it? Maybe many of us are thinking the same with Chauhan revealing over the phone a week later that lipstick sales are picking up slowly. 

Though the lipstick made its appearance by the end of the 19th century, in the 20th century it became popular, especially in the West. The powerful, sultry and seductive red lipstick, which was associated with prostitution and loose morals, became one of the symbols of the Suffragette movement which demanded women’s right to vote.

Over the years, the lipstick has witnessed countless revolutions. From matte finish to glossy to creamy textures, the colour palette has also undergone dramatic changes. Apart from the classic red, one can choose from bold pinks, neons and fuschia to dark wine shades and even black.

All said and done, the mask cannot defeat the lipstick forever, though it has certainly been covered up for the time being. When the scenario improves, it will be back with a vengeance and triumph over the current adversity. As lipstick fans themselves are proving that life without the super bullet is unthinkable.


Deepanwita Gita Niyogi is a Delhi-based freelance journalist.

Adopting Impermanence as a COVID Response

“All conditioned things are impermanent – when one sees this with wisdom, one turns away from suffering.”

-Gautama Buddha

In times of chaos and tribulation, it seems wise to refer to the teachings of those who sought to understand suffering. Impermanence is the word that comes to mind, yet humanity finds comfort in permanence. 

At the August 14th Ethnic Media Services briefing on the science behind COVID-19, doctors on the frontlines reaffirmed the motif I had been seeing – a contradictory society seeks change, yet is resistant to it.

This moment of truth in American history requires quick and consistent change. I wonder, can we rise up to the challenge?

Dr. Ashish Jha, Professor of Global Health at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the Director of the Harvard Global Health Institute remarked “America may have the worst response of any country in the world, to this pandemic” and added that we were in the same position, if not worse condition than Brazil, Russia, and Turkey. Further, he stresses that success with outbreak control has nothing to do with imposing government structures, the culture of the country, or the wealth of a nation. 

Government: Russia’s authoritarian government is struggling with containment.

Culture: East Asian and European countries are dissimilar in their cultural practices but both have managed to lower their COVID rates. 

Wealth: Vietnam, a developing nation, until recently, had avoided COVID-related deaths.

“It’s tempting to look for explanations for why other countries are doing better”, cautions Dr. Jha. He logically builds to the conclusion that where we have failed is in deploying ONE action effectively across all states. That is all that is required. With one-third of the U.S. population on the brink of succumbing to the pandemic, one third already fully at risk, and one-third managing to keep the pandemic at bay, mismatched messaging is wreaking havoc. Without a coordinated response from strong federal leadership, the COVID death numbers will not plateau. 

The onus of information dissemination and access to resources lies heavily on those in positions of power but behavioral change can come from the top-down and the bottom-up. 

Impermanence. The ability to adopt thought that lasts for an undetermined period of time. 

No one wants to be in lockdown. No one wants to wear a mask outside. No one wants to continuously get tested.

Just one of these, fully implemented and enforced, could be the key to end suffering. 

Dr. Nirav Shah, Senior Scholar at Stanford University’s Clinical Excellence Research Center and an elected member of the National Academy of Medicine, informs his research from the positive COVID control he has seen in Asian countries where schools remain open. He notes, “Right now there is a false choice between lives and livelihood.” That choice drives contention and spreads misinformation.

What is needed to re-open safely?

Early warning systems, broad & efficient testing, effective quarantine/isolation, adequate treatment capacity, actionable data collection, and vaccines. 

He brings forth antigen testing as the cheaper, faster method to detect COVID. Cost-effective and almost instantaneous results, I am feeling more optimistic as he continues to speak.

Source: U-T reporter Jonathan Wosen

Early warning systems and actionable data collection rely on the immediate transfer of information to an online database to make it accessible. Temperature monitoring using a thermometer linked to the internet would increase the efficiency of detecting COVID hotspots and roll out timely mandates required to limit spread. Dr. Shah’s blend of technology and the pandemic is the obvious way to move forward. Daily reporting is the necessary next step.

Source: Covid Act Now

So why haven’t we already been using this technology?

“We really need to start to think about a fundamentally different approach that protects privacy and lets public health [professionals] do their job”, Dr. Shah frustratedly shakes his head.

He is moving fast and hits a wall with effective quarantine/isolation and vaccines. The U.S. has expended no energy to strategize or provided resources for isolation and most vaccines are a year out still. 

“We are not anywhere close to doing well”, ends Dr. Shah. 

It seems Dr. Shah and Dr. Jha come to similar conclusions – the United States has the resources and the intelligence to rewrite the course we have taken with regards to the pandemic.

A grim message but I leave with positive outcomes. Testing is changing and so is data collection. Mitigation and prevention of COVID is plausible.

Can we adapt? Can we change? Can we make space for impermanence in our lives to end suffering?


Srishti Prabha is the Assistant Editor at India Currents and has worked in low income/affordable housing as an advocate for children, women, and people of color. She is passionate about diversifying spaces, preserving culture, and removing barriers to equity.

Emerging From My Corona Cocoon

Just like everyone else, I remember where I was when the COVID-19  lockdown was announced. It struck as the school year was growing to a close in India. Thanks to it, the school where I worked closed down prematurely, and boy, was I happy about it. Fate laughed in my face just a few days later when just about everything locked down, and I understood a weird thing about myself.

I had been wanting some days to myself, where I could stay home, and forget about work. It happened. I wanted to stay in and not go out, vegetate at home completely. That happened. I wanted to concentrate on my home and my family. That happened too.

An ideal situation, yes, but just one caveat – it was not on my terms. Fate was forcing me to have a holiday. Every person I talked to said the same thing. Most of us being average salaried employees with a little money in the bank to fall back upon, we finally had some time to rest up and have family time. But to a man and woman, we resented it. To us, ‘it was the best of times, it was the worst of times’.

By the end of Lockdown 3, I’d truly had it. I got exactly what I asked for, but because it was imposed on me, I was PO-ed. As a family, we had maintained a kind of guarded peace at home, but we all knew that we were nearing the end of our tethers.

I had wild dreams about what I’d do the instant lockdown lifted. Not exactly floating on pastel-colored clouds, laughing for no reason and blowing bubbles, but something of the kind that was more suited to an obese 50-year-old. Visiting the library, going out with like-minded friends to chat over coffee and pakodas, catching a movie with family, going clothes shopping, that kind of thing. You know, all the normal things people like to do that won’t break the bank.

Fate gave me the break I wanted. But the tab, when it came, was huge. Coming out of lockdown, nothing was normal, and I just didn’t know what to do. I wanted to go out, but go out where and do what? 

Meeting friends was out – nobody wanted to come to my house and nobody wanted me at theirs. I could shop for essentials, but where was the fun in buying atta and chili powder? Therapeutic shopping, where you buy what you don’t need with money you don’t have and suffer guilt pangs for days, was out because the malls weren’t open yet. Eating out was out … unless you wanted to picnic on the sidewalk – restaurants were only doing takeout. You couldn’t travel … heck, you couldn’t leave town because the city limits were closed.

I could go for a walk, but that would be just lame – like chewing on a carrot stick when you’ve got major cheesecake cravings. 

And then there was the psychological component. Fear was an overwhelming factor. I’d heard stories from my father about how, during the plague, they would vacate their house if they saw a dead rat. In the case of Corona, there wasn’t any overt sign at all. Any desire to meet anyone was overridden by the trepidation – were they symptomless carriers? Even if they were clean, who had they met?

Those were the insidious things about COVID – suspicion and misgiving. What if the person I’m talking to was carrying the virus? S/he just sniffed – was s/he sick? Was that a Corona sniff or generic? Why? You might give people heart attacks by just sneezing. 

 Ever since my childhood, I’ve always loved to ride in auto rickshaws. When we moved back to India, I had got back in my auto habit without missing a beat. Since I was too chicken to drive, I took autos everywhere to the extent that I became the patron saint of the ‘auto men’ at our street corner. But now with Corona dominating the landscape inside and out, it became an effort to commit to an auto ride. Yes, things that I’d taken for granted became painful decisions. 

When it came to food, it got weirder. The cooks, the deliverymen … and even the food – all were suspect. And, why was I paying the big bucks when I had all the ingredients at home and all the time in the world to cook it? It just felt wrong. Dang, I was becoming my mother!

So, where I had thought I couldn’t wait to get out, I was now afraid to leave the house. I wasn’t winning this game, I wasn’t even breaking even. Aargh, what was I to do?

That was when I got an invite … for a puja at a friend’s place! It was just perfect! I had a legitimate excuse to get out. I could actually meet people other than family. Also, though I’m not very religious, I believe in hedging my bets. It might not be a bad idea to work myself into His good books. Or Hers. And finally, I’d be eating someone else’s cooking – you just can’t refuse prasad, don’t you know?

Now came the preparations to step out. In India, by some association, silk and gold are related to prayer and religious observances in India and it is practically law that you must wear a silk sari to a religious ceremony. Who was I to question this hoary tradition … especially since I had a new silk sari with a newly stitched matching blouse that actually fit me? 

Dressing to go out took forever. I had always been quite at home in saris as I’d worn them since I was 18, but the two months of dressing down in pajama bottoms and tank tops had taken its toll. Draping the sari took 10 minutes longer than normal and it felt horribly uncomfortable. Wearing bangles or bracelets had been a pre-COVID habit too. I snapped on my watch and put on a bunch of gaily-colored bangles – and instantly felt like I was manacled. I put on a gold chain (remember the unwritten law?) and felt like a middle-aged street dog forced into a collar for the first time. As for when I put on some lipstick, I felt like a painted woman. It felt all wrong.

However, being made out of strong stuff, I sailed across the threshold all manacled and chained … only to have my husband call me back.

“Haven’t you forgotten something?” he asked. I had my purse, I had my handkerchief, I had some Tupperware in case of leftover prasad … what else did I need?

He held out a black cotton mask. I stared at it, full realization hitting me. Putting it on, I realized bitterly that I might as well have been wearing an old nightie. At least, I’d have been more comfortable.

A drive in an auto restored some of my mood. When I got there, however, I was greeted not by the usual tray with haldi, kumkum, and flowers, but by the lady of the house holding out hand sanitizer. The penetrating smell of the chemical didn’t vibe with the look and feel of puja. The place looked like a masquerade ball or a massive hold-up with everyone wearing masks. I couldn’t recognize most faces and blundered around until the puja began.

To me, pujas have always been a time for my mind to wander. After the first suklam baradaram vishnum, my mind took off as usual. It is hard to focus during a puja when there isn’t anything specific to focus on. Priests can say just about any shloka they want and get away with it as long as they are careful to insert some well-known ones in between. It may be pouring for hours, leaving everyone blaming global warming, while it is only the priest next door reciting the Varuna Japa shlokas for a Ganapathi puja. 

Then it was time for the unmasking … the eating, that is. The fare was simple, but delicious. As I tucked into the uppittu with coconut chutney and kesari baath, I finally felt at home. That was when I realized that it is the smallest things that make up normality – things like family and friends gathering for a meal, trading little jokes, laughing together. Meeting, catching up with each other. Taking selfies and pictures of unsuspecting people tucking into food. Laughing at silly things and sharing sad news. 

I came away, reassured. No matter what, Corona can never take that away from us.


Lakshmi Palecanda moved from Montana, USA, to Mysore, India, and inhabits a strange land somewhere in between the two. Having discovered sixteen years ago that writing was a good excuse to get out of doing chores, she still uses it.

Hate Unmasked In America

“You are the most selfish f—ing people on the planet.”

I jerked my head to the left, where I saw a neighbor glaring at us from his driveway while unloading groceries from his trunk.

“Where’s your f—ing mask?” he said. “Unbelievable.”

 

Marigold Ganz, 3, wore this mask for five minutes outside and then threw it away. We haven’t been able to find it since. In the background is her grandfather, Jovit Almendrala, trying his own mask out for the first time. (Courtesy of Anna Almendrala)

My jaw dropped. I had just walked three blocks home with my toddler and my dad in our leafy, mostly empty Los Angeles neighborhood because my kid had thrown a tantrum in the car.

And we had forgotten our masks. Four days earlier, Mayor Eric Garcetti had ordered protective face coverings anytime we left home, not just when we entered essential businesses.

I pointed out my house to the neighbor to explain how close we were, just a few doors down from him. He cut me off.

“I don’t give a f– where you live, and I don’t give a f– what your reason is.”

Then my dad jumped in. “Sorry, sir, we forgot our masks. I’m sorry, sir.”

Still, the man didn’t soften.

“You should be sorry. And you should make her be sorry, too,” he gestured toward me. After a few more agonizing seconds, he dismissed us.

Our neighbor’s mask, by the way? It was off his face, hanging loosely around his neck. All the better to shout at us.

As a health care reporter, I had covered America’s evolution on masks as the coronavirus spread across the globe. Back in January, I wrote an article about why Chinese immigrants insisted on wearing surgical and construction masks in the U.S., even though it went against official health recommendations at the time. In February, I wrote about Asian families in California clashing with schools over whether their children should be allowed to wear masks in class.

At that time, Asian people wearing masks were targets for verbal and physical abuse. Attackers saw masks on Asian faces as signs of disease and invasion; people were punched and kicked, harassed on public transit, bullied at school and worse.

Now, of course, masks are the norm. And they’ve become more than just personal protection; they are symbols of courtesy and scientific buy-in. They have, to some extent, also become political signifiers. In a new poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation, 70% of Democrats said they wear a protective mask “every time” they leave their house, versus 37% of Republicans. (Kaiser Health News, which produces California Healthline, is an editorially independent program of KFF.)

After our verbal beatdown, my dad and I walked home stone-faced, and then retreated to our separate rooms to nurse our wounds.

I have no idea if the neighbor’s comments had a racist undertone. But it felt like the times in my childhood, first in New Zealand, then in a Bay Area suburb, when I had seen my Philippines-born parents, stunned and silent, get dressed down or humiliated by angry, callous white people. Now it was my 3-year-old daughter’s turn to see me dumbstruck. As I began telling my husband the story, I started crying so hard that I got a headache.

After my tears came reflection, and an attempt at empathy.

My neighbor was obviously scared. He was older, and potentially more medically vulnerable. His trunk had been packed with overstuffed shopping bags ― probably enough food for weeks, to avoid leaving his house.

He had just come from the grocery store, an enclosed space full of things and people that could potentially infect him. I understand the stress that comes with shopping during the pandemic.

Like many of us, my neighbor could be struggling with how to live in mortal fear of the coronavirus. And for him, at least that morning, that struggle got the better of him.

Later that day, I wrote the neighbor a card introducing ourselves. I apologized for making him feel unsafe and acknowledged that he was right about the masks. But I also said he had unfairly used us as a target for his fear and frustration, and I told him I was shocked and saddened he would treat a neighbor with so much hate. I haven’t heard back from him.

My dad spent the rest of that morning praying that the man didn’t get the coronavirus — lest he blame us and all Asians, forever.

Since that day, no one in my family has left the house without a mask on their face, and I’m anxious to train my daughter to wear one, although she resists it the way she has refused hats and headbands in the past.

We can’t stop noticing that most other exercisers and dog-walkers in our neighborhood ― all white ― fly past us without them. They don’t seem to worry about getting caught on the wrong side of whatever America happens to believe about masks on any given day. But my family can’t risk it.


This story was produced by Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Images (Courtesy of Anna Almendrala)