Opinion: Please, Keep Wearing a Mask

Masks prevent the spread of COVID-19 according to health experts./ Vergani_ Fotografia / iStock
Masks prevent the spread of COVID-19 according to health experts./ Vergani_
Fotografia / iStock

  News of the vaccine rollout has been mostly positive as of late. Yes, people are struggling to get an appointment, but that is a supply issue. There simply isn’t enough vaccine available yet. Nevertheless, in New York State, 12 percent of the population has received their first jab and 1.52 million dosages are being distributed daily nation-wide. The Biden administration has secured 50 percent more vaccines such that there should be enough vaccines for every adult in the United States by mid-summer. Once we reach that point, distribution will be the major obstacle. Keep in mind that Australia just started their vaccination program last week and there are still 130 countries waiting for vaccinations.

   The COVID-19 rate in NYC seems to be going down. Even though there is a discrepancy between the NYS’ website, that shows NYC’s 7-day average infection rate is 4.41 percent, and the New York City dashboard, which lists the same time period of infection as 7.31 percent, both are trending downward. This is probably due to the weather. It’s been a cold February and lots of snow. It has been a significant winter for the whole country which means that people are staying home, and in turn, limiting community spread.
  It is widely accepted that wearing a mask, social distancing, and hand washing reduces community spread. This behavior, however, is waning. All it takes is a walk outside to see that roughly 50 percent of people are not wearing masks. In Brooklyn there is one zip code which is notorious for not wearing a mask which is the zip code 11235 (Brighton Beach/Coney Island) and the COVID rate has consistently been above 14 percent, while places like Lenox Hill with higher COVID etiquette is currently 1.88 percent according to the NYC COVID dashboard. Density makes a huge impact on COVID rates. Flushing, which has extremely high density and a high number of multi-family households, consistently has the highest COVID rate in the city, which is currently at 15.73 percent. Keep in mind neither of these neighborhoods are either Black or Hispanic, which are the two constantly flagged by Governor Cuomo, which falsely suggests that COVID is coming from these two demographics. 

   Nobody likes wearing a mask, but in most parts of New York City, it is impossible to maintain social distancing. So taking off one’s mask is a really bad idea. Even if there is no one near you for one moment, the next moment there will be. 

   Last Sunday, the United States exceeded 500,000 deaths from COVID-19. It’s a number that is hard to fathom. In the month of January, the US was losing on average 3,100 people per day. The Brooklyn College community has lost a number of parents, professors, and friends from this pandemic. We know the pain.
  As grim as the number is, it may get worse. The COVID-19 is mutating because all viruses mutate. According to Dr. Fauci, B.1.1.7, or the British strain, will be the dominant strain in the US by next month. It has already been found in numerous places in New York State, including a few cases in Brooklyn. It would be wise to consider this an undercount because the US is grossly behind on genetic sequencing. To address this, the Biden administration has recently allotted a $1.6 billion investment for testing and sequencing.
  The first reports of the UK strain found that it was more contagious but not more deadly. This turned out to be wrong. It is now understood to be both more contagious and more deadly. It would mean higher rates of hospitalization, even more deaths, and a further shuttering of New York’s economy. By the Governor’s COVID valve analogy: the higher COVID-19 and hospitalization rates are, the more the economy gets shut down. The lower it is, the more it opens up. 

   The Pfizer and Moderna vaccine appear to be effective with this strain, but we are still not sure about the next strain is the South African strain B.1.135, which is much worse. This problem is made clear by the British vaccine, Oxford-AstraZeneca,no longer being used in South Africa because it is non-effective with the mutation that they are battling. Compounding this, there are stories of people in the UK  — where there is only Pfizer and Oxford vaccines available — are walking out of the vaccine centers once they learn that they will be getting the Oxford vaccine. This weekend, the South African strain was found in New York State. 

   The FDA is set to decide if the Oxford vaccine will be approved in the United States in April. Let’s hope it isn’t.
  The White House has asked american pharmaceutical companies to work on vaccinations for new strains as they are rolling out the current vaccines. Vaccines are the best way to achieve herd immunity. This is clear from other diseases that are no longer a threat because of vaccinations.
  There have been recent reports in conversative media last week, such as in the opinion section of the Wall Street Journal and others, that herd immunity will be achieved by April. This is not very likely. Such calculations do not take new strains into account and they assume anyone who has had COVID-19 can’t get it again amongst ignoring other factors.
  The COVID situation will be better by summer and better than that by fall of this year, but it ain’t over yet.