FROM NEW YORK CITY COUNCIL WOMAN GAIL BREWER
It’s Thursday, February 10, 2022. There’s a lot about masks this week…
In response to the falling numbers of Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations, the NYS mask mandate for indoor businesses, due to expire today (2/10), will not be renewed by Gov. Hochul. Masks will still be required while using public transportation, car services, taxis, when inside a school, in a child care or healthcare setting, and at group residential facilities such as nursing homes and homeless shelters. Individual stores, restaurants, theaters or other public spaces are still permitted to require masks, and the city’s “Key to NYC” remains in effect where proof of vaccination is required at indoor venues – restaurants, gyms, museums and movie theaters et al – even if they allow you to go maskless.
Yet the CDC disagrees. “Now is not the moment,” Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said this week about removing mask mandates after Gov. Hochul and other governors relaxed restrictions. “We have and continue to recommend masking in areas of high and substantial transmission — that is essentially everywhere in the country in public indoor settings,” she said on Tuesday.
Separately, the CDC has released data that shows wearing any type of face mask protects you from the coronavirus, but N95 and KN95 masks are most effective, reducing your chance of testing positive by 83 percent in indoor settings. Surgical masks are less effective, but still cut the chance of infection by 66 percent. (For health-care workers, at least, the CDC recommends no more than five reuses or “donnings” per mask.)
Loosening some mask requirements doesn’t mean we’re back to normal. The current national infection rate is still higher than the peak of the Delta wave last year.
Last Friday, the US passed the milestone of 900,000 dead from COVID. And on the same day we surpassed 900,000 confirmed COVID deaths, almost 4,000 more lost their lives.
Factor in the increased contagiousness of the Omicron variant– and the faster-still communicability of Omicron’s BA.2 subvariant– and it’s a time bomb still exploding in thousands of deaths each day, the vast majority among the unvaccinated and unboosted.
It’s worth understanding why deaths remain so high. Let me quote (once again!) David Leonhardt’s The Morning newsletter from the Times this past Monday (2/7): The most urgent problem involves the unboosted elderly. (About 14 percent of Americans over 65 eligible for a booster had not received one as of mid-January, according to Kaiser.) But some younger adults are also getting sick as their vaccine immunity wears off.
A recent study from Israel, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, was clarifying. For both the elderly and people between 40 and 59, severe illness and death were notably lower among the boosted than the merely vaccinated. For adults younger than 40, serious illness was rare in both groups — but even rarer among the boosted: Of the almost two million vaccinated people ages 16 to 39 in the study, 26 of the unboosted got severely ill, compared with only one boosted person. —
Israel started administering a fourth round of vaccines – ie, a second booster shot – weeks ago. In the U.S.? The consensus is that “if you are immunocompromised, yes, you should get a fourth shot.” And under CDC rules, people who are receiving cancer treatment or an organ transplant, people with HIV infections or autoimmune disorders, or who are taking medications that can suppress their immune system already qualify for a fourth dose.
Indeed, this week the CDC shortened the recommended timeline for third shots down from five to three months after completing the second shot of a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.
The Biden administration will make free rapid tests available to Medicare recipients, eventually. Up to eight tests a month via “eligible pharmacies and other participating entities” will be permitted starting in early spring.