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.


 

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