Fixing America’s COVID-19 mistakes: We could have much better masks by now if the CDC followed NASA’s playbook

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joe jill biden masks
President Joe Biden kissed his wife, first lady Dr. Jill Biden, on the South Lawn of the White House on January 29, 2021 in Washington, DC.

  • We’ve been wearing masks for almost a year, and we’re still not getting it right.
  • Designing better masks, and creating standards and labels for them could help.
  • So would imposing fines, as South Korea has done.
  • This article is one in a four-part series on the simple ways to fix the America’s biggest COVID-19 mistakes. Click here to read more.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Over the course of the past year, we’ve gone through at least four major cultural shifts when it comes to wearing masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19:

First, we heard: don’t wear a mask! Save them for frontline healthcare workers tending to sick patients.

Then: OK, wear a mask, but make it yourself.

Next: pretty, pretty please wear a mask because they really work quite well. Healthcare workers, try to get your hands on an N95 if you can.

And now: wear a mask (or two!) that’s most comfortable for you, and make sure it filters and fits your face best.

It’s been a painful learning curve, but we’ve discovered during this pandemic that when dealing with a virus that often spreads without symptoms, one for which people are generally most contagious before they know they’re sick, masks can help us keep our germs to ourselves in ways that are life-saving and yet simple.

The truth is that masks are going to be with us for many months to come, especially in public spaces, indoors. Yet, we are still largely left in the dark about how to put on a good one when we leave the house. There’s no way to fit test your mask, no one (really) enforcing mask wearing in public, and no clear guidance about the best masks for different purposes.

Researchers and health policy experts agree there are 3 simple ways to make our masked life better

fix the mask brace
A mask brace fits over a surgical mask to provide a snugger, more air-tight fit.

1. Copy NASA’s playbook

NASA often has to tackle tough logistical issues when planning how to get humans (and their digestive systems) into space.

Toilets, especially, have been a topline challenge for decades. When the agency’s in-house engineers come up empty handed, it crowdsources creative new solutions.

In 2020, NASA offered $20,000 to anyone who could design a toilet that could work on the moon. In 2017, the agency awarded $15,000 to a flight surgeon who found a way for astronauts to …. relieve themselves while stuck inside their spacesuits.

Why couldn’t the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention engage in the same kind of crowdsourced, challenge-based hack-a-thon for masks?

“There’s a mask that’s waiting to be invented,” Dr. John Brooks, the CDC’s chief medical officer for COVID-19 response, recently told Insider. “A mask that is easy and comfortable to wear, that filters beautifully, that is simple to take care of, and that’s attractive.”

So where’s the prize money for that?

2. Make good, clear, evidence-based mask rules – and make it expensive to break them

Korean War veterans of South Korea salute during a ceremony to unveil an installation artwork to commemorate the upcoming 70th anniversary of the Korean War, in Seoul, South Korea, Monday, June 15, 2020. South Korea on Sunday convened an emergency security meeting and urged North Korea to uphold reconciliation agreements, hours after the North threatened to demolish a liaison office and take military action against its rival. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
In South Korea, it can cost you $85 not to wear a mask in public.

You don’t need the same kind of viral protection in a crowded supermarket that you would going for a run in a quiet neighborhood.

Virus expert and University of Maryland professor Don Milton knows this well: he wears a simple surgical mask if he strolls out for a walk.

“But, when I go to the grocery store, I put my N95 on,” he told Insider.

In South Korea, it’s expensive not to be properly masked in public, but only when it matters most. Masks are mandatory on public transportation, in buffet lines, and at the gym.

Scarves, valved masks and chin-masking won’t cut it, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency says, suggesting that people stick to wearing the country’s Ministry of Food and Drug Safety-approved models (but still allowing any “cloth masks or disposable masks that completely cover both mouth and nose” to do the job.) Violators can be fined around $85.

3. Give people better quality masks

covid masks
Sandra Martínez, owner of Raspadesardina, a Spanish brand that makes festival clothes, sews a face mask at her atelier on June 8, 2020 in Madrid.

Early on in the pandemic, University of Wisconsin mechanical engineering professor David Rothamer turned his home into a high-quality mask factory, enlisting his partner as its chief seamstress.

“I just wear the masks that my wife makes,” he recently told Insider. “It’s kind of everyone for themselves.”

If he has to run a quick errand to the hardware store, he pops on a mask she’s made that has been lab-tested for performance against tiny viral particles. He says it’s “just three layers of spun-bonded polypropylene” that have been sewn together, using a pattern.

But, he doesn’t think everyone should have to create this kind of sophisticated, homegrown mask-making operation.

“The somewhat frustrating thing is I think there was an opportunity to say, ‘okay, we can use scientists to design this, use experts, design something that’s cheap to produce, do it at high quantities, and get these things out there,'” he said. “But instead you have basically an unregulated bunch of products, nobody really knows how they perform, unless you’re someone like me who has a couple hundred thousand dollars worth of equipment to test it.”

The government could create better mask standards (as South Korea has), regulate, and impose labeling protocols that would keep us safe, all while demonstrating that different masks come with different levels of performance. Then, it could make hundreds of millions of good quality masks available to people across the US.

Read the original article on Business Insider

The 4 things the US is doing wrong in the fight against COVID-19, and what we should be doing instead

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covid memorial
Chris Duncan, whose 75 year old mother Constance died from COVID on her birthday, photographs a COVID Memorial Project installation of 20,000 American flags on the National Mall as the United States counted 200,000 lives lost in the COVID-19 pandemic, September 22, 2020 in Washington, DC.

  • We’ve been living pandemic life for a year now.
  • Insider has identified 4 ways we could be living with COVID-19 better, right now.
  • Safer travel, savvier surveillance, and well-regulated masks are all areas we can improve, and the results could be huge.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

After a year of pandemic life, better days appear to be on the horizon.

“By July the 4th, there’s a good chance you, your families, and friends will be able to get together in your backyard or in your neighborhood and have a cookout and a BBQ and celebrate Independence Day,” President Biden said Thursday, on the one year anniversary of World Health Organization’s pandemic declaration.

Biden’s projection lines up well with what other experts have said: by this summer, things won’t be perfect, but we will be living life again, reconnecting with family and friends.

Yet the virus will still be with us well beyond then for many, many months to come. Even as tens of millions of vaccines have started to take effect, the relief they provide is muffled by the fact that there are still no great treatments for this coronavirus yet.

“This is not the last pandemic we’re all gonna face, and we will need to do much, much better next time around,” Brown University dean of public health Ashish Jha told reporters on the pandemic’s anniversary this week.

“We just can’t repeat this performance again, it has been so awful,” he said.

Knowing that, here are the four things we could clearly be doing better to live alongside the virus more safely and more tolerably, right now.

1. Forget abstinence. We should be encouraging the right kinds of travel.

disney world pandemic

There’s no reason that grandparents can’t fly around the country to see their grandkids this summer, with some level of continued vigilance. 

“I don’t believe it’s unsafe,” Jha said. 

Read Insider’s report on how we can travel without spreading COVID-19

2. Everyone should have cheap and easy at-home COVID-19 test kits.

Color COVID 19 test site
More COVID-19 tests should be available for use at home.

There is truly no good reason why we don’t.

“We have more than enough technology and ability to have widespread antigen testing available for the American people at probably $3, 4 bucks a pop,” Jha said. “Cheap, easy.”

Let’s make it happen. 

Read Insider’s report on how testing could be improved.

3. We should stop wasting time contact tracing for COVID-19.

Contact tracing

Contact tracing the coronavirus is a waste of precious resources. Instead, we should focus more on variant surveillance. 

Dr. Anthony Fauci calls this a “somewhat inexcusable deficiency.”

Read Insider’s report on how the US should step up its genetic sequencing game — fast — and let the contact tracers of the country do other vitally important work.

4. We should hack-a-thon our way to better masks.

covid masks
Sandra Martínez sews a face mask at her atelier.

“You have basically an unregulated bunch of products, nobody really knows how they perform,” University of Wisconsin mechanical engineering professor David Rothamer said.

Crowdsourcing creative solutions to such tough design issues is something the federal government has done before. Just ask NASA. 

Read Insider’s report on how we could have much comfier, safer (and perhaps more stylish) masks.

Read the original article on Business Insider

States like Texas and Mississippi are lifting COVID-19 mask mandates, but with the pace of vaccinations and spread of variants, experts say it’s too soon

COVID Vaccine Line
People waiting in a Disneyland parking lot in Anaheim, California, to receive COVID-19 vaccines.

  • On Tuesday, Texas became the largest US state to lift its COVID-19 mask mandate.
  • But experts say the US is in a race against the clock to vaccinate before the variants spread.
  • While some restrictions can be eased as cases decrease, experts say masks should be the last to go.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

On Tuesday, Texas became the largest US state to lift its COVID-19 mask mandate, as a number of states have begun loosening restrictions.

Mississippi, Louisiana, and Michigan also announced easing some restrictions this week, while Iowa, Montana, and North Dakota ditched state-wide mask mandates earlier this year.

The drop in coronavirus cases has been cited in decisions to lift restrictions, and, indeed, most states are down from their fall and winter peaks. However, the nationwide decline in case counts seems to be stalling at numbers that public health officials have said are still too high, prompting warnings that it’s too soon to drop restrictions.

Infectious-disease experts told Insider that while the dropping case counts were promising, it’s too soon to make dramatic changes in restrictions, especially when it comes to masks.

“It’s completely too soon,” Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious-disease specialist at the University of California at San Francisco, told Insider.

“It goes against the grain of what President Biden is trying to do, which is a national strategy that we never had,” he said. “COVID doesn’t restrict itself by state borders.”

Chin-Hong said individual states’ lifting mask mandates echoed the situation in the US last year, when he said the lack of a national strategy hindered efforts to restrict coronavirus transmission.

Even as President Joe Biden’s administration has ramped up vaccinations, Chin-Hong said coronavirus variants were a big concern.

“The vaccine rollout is progressing everywhere, but it probably won’t be able to protect the population fast enough,” he said.

The experts Insider spoke with all said there were encouraging signs, but that the US was still in a race to vaccinate before virus variants spread more widely.

The uncertainty of the variants

Chin-Hong said some states lifting restrictions are dealing with virus variants, including the more transmissible B.1.1.7 variant. Several cases of that variant have been discovered in Iowa as well as a growing number in Texas.

But he called those cases only “the tip of the iceberg,” given the limited work being done to identify the variants.

The B.1.1.7 variant, first identified in the UK, is known to be more transmissible than the original strain. British scientists have also become increasingly convinced the variant could be deadlier as well.

The variant has been detected in 46 states, and Chin-Hong said it would most likely be the country’s dominant strain by the end of March. If states continue to lift restrictions like mask mandates, it will increase the likelihood for B.1.1.7 to spread.

In states that have dramatically lifted restrictions, which now includes Texas, Chin-Hong said the virus was “probably having a party right now.”

B.1.1.7 is just one of many coronavirus variants circulating in the US and it’s possible more will emerge, making it an evolving issue with lots of uncertainty.

“We’re entering a phase where it’s harder to know what the near-term future is like,” Andrew Noymer, an infectious-disease specialist at the University of California at Irvine, told Insider.

He said his expectations for what would happen throughout the pandemic – such as the summer and winter surges – had largely been accurate. But, he said, for the first time he felt as if he really didn’t know what the immediate future would look like regarding the pandemic.

Racing to vaccinate

Cindy Prins, an epidemiologist at the University of Florida, agreed it’s too soon to be lifting mask mandates.

“The thing is, we still have COVID circulating and don’t have the majority of people vaccinated,” she said, adding that while case numbers were lower than they were during the holiday surge, they’re still not at ideal levels in most places.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 80 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in the US as of March 3. About 16% of Americans have received their first dose, while about 8% are fully vaccinated.

To reach herd immunity, an estimated 65% to 80% of a population needs to be immune.

The Biden administration is well on its way to achieving its goal of administering 100 million vaccine shots in its first 100 days, and it has plans to further ramp up vaccinations. The president said Tuesday the US will have enough vaccine doses for every US adult by the end of May.

But depending on distribution, it will take months for the doses to be administered.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases who is also Biden’s chief COVID-19 medical advisor, has said priority groups won’t finish getting vaccinated until sometime in April. And it could take until late summer for all eligible adults to receive their shot.

If the more-transmissible B.1.1.7 variant becomes the most common strain, that leaves a lot of time for it to circulate in environments with loosened restrictions.

“It is really a race against time,” Prins said.

Before dramatically lifting restrictions, she said, states should have a combination of low transmission as well as a high number of fully vaccinated people to reach a “balance where we feel like we’re not going to have widespread transmission.”

“We’ll get to that point,” she said. “But we’re not there yet.”

‘Masks should be among the last to go’

Despite concerns over variants, Noymer of UC Irvine said it’s reasonable for states to reevaluate restrictions as case numbers drop.

“People are getting antsy,” Noymer told Insider. “What you don’t want to have is a situation in which people don’t want to follow any restrictions because they feel it’s all too strict.”

Noymer said loosening restrictions could even have an overall positive effect in some situations. For instance, he mentioned California, where an outdoor-dining ban in the fall sparked outrage and even prompted some restaurants and local jurisdictions to flout the rules.

Noymer considers this a significant problem because it risks some restrictions being viewed as meaningless.

Gov. Gavin Newsom reopened outdoor dining in California late last month, prompting some to wonder whether the decision came too soon. But Noymer said it just brought the restrictions closer in line with reality in some places, which can go a long way in maintaining the public’s trust.

“I’d like to have these orders still have some meaning when in the fall we might face a new wave with variants,” Noymer said.

But as far as what kinds of restrictions can safely be lifted, he said “masks should be among the last to go.”

He said relative to other aspects of life that had been disrupted by the pandemic, masks were a minor inconvenience relative to their public-health benefits.

“We know that masking is really important for prevention,” Prins said, adding that to keep case numbers from rising again it’s crucial for people to continue wearing masks and physical distancing until more Americans can be vaccinated.

Masks could be one of the last parts of the pandemic to go away, as Fauci recently said it’s possible Americans will be wearing masks into 2022, even after life begins to look a bit more “normal.”

Have a news tip? Contact this reporter at kvlamis@insider.com.

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Which activities are safe once you’re fully vaccinated? Experts say movies, travel, and family gatherings are on the table.

A recently reopened movie theatre.
A recently reopened movie theater.

  • The US has authorized three COVID-19 vaccines.
  • Public-health experts say it’s probably safe for vaccinated people to meet for dinner or gather indoors.
  • Some experts think vaccinated people can even return to offices and movie theaters or see their unvaccinated grandkids.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

So you’ve received both doses of a coronavirus vaccine. Does life change a little – or a lot?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to release guidelines this week detailing how Americans can safely alter their behavior once they’re fully vaccinated. But the rules are complicated by a few unknowns – namely, the extent to which vaccinated people can pass the virus to others and the threat of contagious variants that may evade vaccine protection.

So far, Pfizer and Moderna’s clinical trials have only tested whether vaccines prevent symptomatic COVID-19 cases. But emerging evidence suggests the vaccines can reduce coronavirus transmission as well. Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 single-dose vaccine also seems effective at reducing transmission, according to recent data.

Without more research, however, public-health experts caution that vaccinated people should continue to wear masks and social distance in public. Here’s what seven experts think are safe activities for vaccinated people. 

Dinners with other vaccinated people are relatively low-risk

outdoor tent covid
Women sit inside a bubble tent at the Cafe Tirree in Berlin, Germany, on October 24, 2020.

Dinners with other vaccinated people, whether indoors or outdoors, are a relatively safe activity.

“If we’re going to gather, we should gather smart, which doesn’t mean to have a 200-person wedding with people that you don’t know right away,” Dr. Dara Kass, an emergency-medicine physician at Columbia Medical Center in New York, told Insider. “Start, maybe, going out to dinner with a couple that is vaccinated, or your parents, maybe seeing them for a nuclear family dinner that you have been avoiding.” 

In general, interactions between people who are fully vaccinated – or immune due to a previous infection – are relatively low-risk for all parties involved, according to Florian Krammer, a vaccinologist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

“We need to be cautious and need to stay vigilant about risk,” he recently wrote. “But we should also allow people who have immunity to at least normalize some of their interactions.”

Small indoor gatherings aren’t such a bad idea, either

thanksgiving dinner
A family celebrates Thanksgiving on November 24, 2016 in Stamford, Connecticut.

At a White House press briefing on Monday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said “doubly vaccinated” people – those who have received both doses of either Pfizer or Moderna’s shots – can safely gather indoors in small groups.

“I use the example of a daughter coming in from out of town who is doubly vaccinated, and a husband and wife doubly vaccinated, and maybe a next-door neighbor who you know are doubly vaccinated,” he said. “The relative risk is so low that you would not have to wear a mask.”

The new CDC guidelines will also advise that vaccinated people can host small, at-home gatherings with other fully vaccinated people, two senior White House officials involved in drafting the rules told Politico.

Dr. Peter Hotez, a molecular virologist at Baylor College of Medicine in Texas, said he plans to visit his two oldest children and their spouses for the first time in 14 months this weekend. All of them have either been vaccinated or contracted COVID-19, he wrote

Elderly people can see unvaccinated grandkids – with caveats

pfizer elderly UK
Husband and wife Vic and Penny Griffiths receive the Pfizer vaccine at Basildon University Hospital in Essex, England, on December 9, 2020.

Many elderly Americans have said they plan to see their children and grandchildren post-vaccination. If all adults in a family are vaccinated, such a gathering becomes “fairly low risk,” according to Dr. Céline Gounder, an infectious-disease physician at New York University. That’s because coronavirus infections are generally mild or asymptomatic in children

“What concerns me is the people who are not yet vaccinated,” Gounder told Insider. “For example, you have three generations in a family: vaccinated grandparents, but not children or adults. That could still be a real problem.”

Kass also said it’s probably safe for elderly, vaccinated people to see their unvaccinated grandkids.

“My parents are vaccinated, which means that my kids can go visit my parents with a sense of relief that we haven’t had before,” Kass said.

Kids under 16 likely won’t be eligible to receive a shot until at least the fall or winter, or perhaps even early 2022. 

Domestic travel is relatively safe

airport coronavirus masks
Passengers wear masks as they walk through Los Angeles International airport.

The CDC may offer new travel guidelines for vaccinated Americans this week, but at the White House briefing on Monday, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said “the goal is not to sort of open up travel” just yet.

For now, the CDC recommends that all Americans avoid domestic travel, if possible. For those who have been vaccinated, the agency suggests waiting to travel until at least two weeks after your second dose.

In general, however, experts say it should be fine for vaccinated people to travel within the US.

“If someone who is fully vaccinated decides to take a trip for non-essential reasons, they’re probably very well protected themselves and probably relatively protected against spreading the illness, too,” Dr. Leana Wen, the former health commissioner of Baltimore, told Insider.

Vaccinated people could potentially return to offices 

movie theater social distancing
Moviegoers social distance at the AMC Highlands Ranch 24 in Highlands Ranch, Colorado on August 20, 2020.

Experts say most indoor activities wouldn’t be particularly risky if limited to vaccinated people only.

“For a fully vaccinated person who is in a cohort or socializes with other fully vaccinated people, I see it as being completely reasonable to go back to the theater and would even encourage people to see movies,” Dr. Daniel Griffin, a clinical medicine instructor at Columbia University, told Insider. 

But the risk of transmission and infection would increase substantially if unvaccinated people join the activity.

“Could you return to the office, if it’s only people who have been vaccinated who are in the office? I think that is fine,” Gounder said. “Where it becomes more complicated is if you have a mix.” 

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Retail trade group slams Texas and Mississippi for lifting mask mandates, saying it puts workers at risk

masks stores
Joanne Millar store manger of Joules in Belfast places a sign in the shop window advising customers that face masks must be worn at all times as face coverings are now compulsory for shoppers.

  • Texas and Mississippi governors announced mask mandates will be lifted.
  • Retail trade group RILA opposes the moves and calls it a “premature victory celebration.”
  • Retail workers have had to enforce mask rules and risk dangerous confrontations in the last year.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott just announced the lifting of the state’s mask mandate by an executive order effective on March 10. Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves also announced that state mask mandates would be lifted and businesses would be allowed to operate at full capacity beginning March 3. The Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) has already opposed the move, Nathaniel Meyersohn at CNN reported.

RILA counts as members some of the biggest retailers in the country, including Target, Walmart, Lowes, Walgreens, and Dollar General.

“Relaxing common-sense safety protocols like wearing masks is a mistake. We are certainly supportive of governors re-opening their economies and giving beleaguered restaurants and other small businesses the opportunity to rebuild and rehire workers,” RILA Executive Vice President of Communications and State Affairs Jason Brewer told Insider in an email. “But going backwards on safety measures will unfairly put retail employees back in the role of enforcing guidelines still recommended by the CDC and other public health advocates. It could also jeopardize the safety of pharmacies and grocers that are gearing up as vaccination centers.”

Several RILA members are also vaccine distribution sites, including CVS and Wegmans. 

“Tremendous strides have been made in recent weeks lowering the rate of COVID-19 infections and vaccinating seniors and other vulnerable populations. We should not jeopardize this progress with a premature victory celebration,” Brewer said. 

Since the beginning of the pandemic, US retail workers have been tasked with the job of enforcing mask policies. Employees were left in the difficult position of not having official mask policies, or not being allowed to ask customers to mask up.

Some customers have refused to wear masks for political reasons, and encounters have even turned violent, with workers shot or assaulted for asking customers to wear masks. Of stores that did not let employees enforce mask rules, spokespeople cited concerns for employee safety.

Texas has the most COVID-19 hotspots of any US state, with 10 counties reporting more than 100 cases per 100,000 residents over the past week. Infection rate counts were artificially low in late February when a severe storm overtook much of the state, but numbers are starting to rebound.

Read the original article on Business Insider

New CDC guidelines will reportedly tell vaccinated Americans it’s safe to gather in small groups

Rochelle Walensky
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, CDC Director.

  • The CDC plans to release new guidelines this week for Americans who have been fully vaccinated.
  • The recommendations suggest that vaccinated people can host small, at-home gatherings with other fully vaccinated individuals, two senior White House officials told Politico.
  • But even fully vaccinated people will still need to wear masks and social distance in public.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention plans to release guidelines this week detailing how Americans can safely alter their behavior once they’re fully vaccinated.

The recommendations will advise that vaccinated people can host small, at-home gatherings with other fully vaccinated individuals, two senior White House officials involved in drafting the guidelines told Politico.

But even fully vaccinated people – those who have received two doses of either Pfizer or Moderna’s vaccine, or one shot of Johnson & Johnson’s – will still be asked to wear masks and social distance in public, the officials said. The full guidelines could be released as early as Thursday, Politico reported

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, hinted at the new rules during a White House press briefing on Monday.

“I use the example of a daughter coming in from out of town who is doubly vaccinated, and a husband and wife doubly vaccinated, and maybe a next-door neighbor who you know are doubly vaccinated,” Fauci said. “Small gatherings in the home of people, I think you can clearly feel that the risk – the relative risk – is so low that you would not have to wear a mask, that you could have a good social gathering within the home.”

fauci mask
Dr. Anthony Fauci, during a White House Coronavirus Task Force meeting on November 19.

But CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky cautioned at the same briefing that even vaccinated Americans would have to remain vigilant.

“While we may have guidance at the individual level, as Dr. Fauci has suggested, I think we all need to keep our eye on the fact that we’re not out of the woods here yet,” Walensky said.

Average daily coronavirus cases have fallen roughly 65% since the start of January, but cases appear to have plateaued at around 70,000 per day over the last week.

If Americans “suddenly decided that because cases are going down, they felt more comfortable eating inside at a restaurant or socializing outside their pods, we could potentially erase the reductions that have been made over the past few weeks,” Dr. Kate Langwig, an infectious disease ecologist at Virginia Tech, told Insider in February.

For now, Walensky said, “the goal is not to sort of open up travel” just because vaccinations are scaling up. Instead, she said, the Biden administration has set its sights on making sure that “we are in a place to be out of this pandemic” within President Joe Biden’s first 100 days in office – roughly by the end of April.

“At 70,000 cases per day, we’re not in that place right now,” Walensky said.

For that reason, experts still advise that fully vaccinated people limit their interactions with non-vaccinated people as much as possible.

“The setting in a home of a small group of people having dinner together, all of whom are vaccinated, is very different when you step out the door and go into a society that has 70,000 new infections per day,” Fauci said.

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You can spread COVID-19 by talking in hair salons or during a massage – even while wearing a mask, research suggests

beauty salon hair stylist coronavirus A cosmetologist styles a customers hair at Parlour Salon as beauty salons, barber shops and spas begin to reopen in the wake of the Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, Wednesday, May 20, 2020, in Cincinnati, Ohio, United States. (Photo by Jason Whitman/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Missouri allowed hair salons to reopen earlier this month.

  • Talking expels viral particles that gravity could carry from person to person, a new study found. 
  • Employees standing or leaning over clients could infect them. 
  • Masks reduce the risk, but infection is possible if the mask is loose and air escapes through gaps. 
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Most people know by now to wear a mask in public settings to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. We’ve even learning to avoid shouting or singing, which can spew contagious particles in the surrounding air. 

But speaking at a normal volume also expels viral particles, and these could transfer to another person even, in some cases, when you’re wearing a mask, according to a study published February 23 in Physics of Fluids.

Japanese researchers found that in scenarios where a customer is sitting or lying below an employee (or vice versa), airflow could carry viral particles from person to person.  That could be a problem for settings such as a hair salon, a spa, or a medical or care facility.

Previous research has found that talking can produce a huge amount of viral particles in a short time, so understanding how this works may be important to protecting people from infection in medical and customer service settings. 

georgia reopen lockdown lift coronavirus covid-19 nail salon
A customer gets a manicure from Sally Le and pedicure from Tom Dinh at Nail Turbo, during the phased reopening of businesses and restaurants from COVID-19 restrictions, in Roswell, Georgia, April 24, 2020.

Gravity pulls contagious particles downward if you lean or stand over another person

The researchers, from Aoyama Gakuin University and Yamano College of Aesthetics, used e-cigarettes to generate a vapor cloud with particle sizes similar to those that carry the coronavirus. They then used laser light to study the airflow pattern of the particles in different settings. Participants spoke the same word (“onegaishimasu,” a common Japanese greeting) while sitting, standing, and lying down in different positions, with and without masks. 

When a person speaks without a mask, the particles they exhale are carried downward by gravity, so someone sitting or lying below them might be infected.

With a mask, those particles are more contained in a vapor cloud by warm air surrounding the person’s body, and are less likely to travel toward other people. That significantly reduces the risk, the researchers found. 

If a person leans over, however, exhaled particles are pulled downward, the study found. If the mask is loose, and viral particles escape, this could present an infection risk. 

That could be a problem in situations such as table massage, other spa services, or medical care in which a patient is lying on a bed. 

The researchers used surgical-style, non-woven masks, and found particles weren’t likely to escape through the sides or bottom of the mask, but the top, through gaps around the nose. It’s not clear from this study how a tighter-fitting or woven mask might fare, or if double-masking might help. 

Wearing a face shield helped prevent particles from being carried by gravity, though. 

“The face shield promoted the rise of the exhaled breath,” study author Keiko Ishii, professor of mechanical engineering at Aoyama Gakuin University, said in a press release.. “Hence, it is more effective to wear both a mask and a face shield when providing services to customers.”

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Washington hospitals unknowingly bought 300,000 counterfeit N95 masks. At least 4 other states bought fakes too.

north dakota coronavirus
Nurse Dana Simmers dons a 3M N95 mask.

Healthcare workers in at least 40 hospitals across Washington state may have been using fake N95 masks since December.

Mask manufacturer 3M informed the Washington State Hospital Association (WSHA) on Friday that some respirator masks being bought and used by US hospitals were counterfeit. The Department of Homeland Security told WSHA in an email that it had “identified a vendor” that may have provided the hospital association with counterfeit 3M masks.

“It is reprehensible that counterfeiters are selling fake goods,” Cassie Sauer, president and CEO of WSHA said in a press release.

Federal investigators confirmed on Wednesday that in at least four other states, hospitals, medical facilities, and government agencies had also purchased fake masks, the Associated Press reported. The investigators did not name the states involved.

According to CNN, Sauer declined to name the distributor that sold WSHA the counterfeit masks, but she confirmed it was one the association had often used. The DHS email to the Washington association pinpointed a vendor named Q2 Solutions LLC, which the department said “may have provided WSHA with counterfeit 3M Model 1860 and 1860S N95 respirators.” A similar email about Q2 Solutions went to some other states as well, the AP reported.

WSHA bought and distributed 300,000 counterfeit masks to their 40 member hospitals for $1.4 million, NBC News reported. About 20% of those masks remain unused in warehouses, however.

Sauer told the Seattle Times that Washington hospitals statewide received, in total, 2 million fake N95s. It’s unclear, she added, if the hospitals or WSHA would get their money back. 

Fake masks ‘fooled everybody’

Counterfeit respirators “may not be capable of providing appropriate respiratory protection to workers,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Following the Saturday announcement, hospitals across the state had to spend precious time and resources to identify, remove, and replace fake masks

FILE PHOTO: Various N95 respiration masks at a laboratory of 3M, which has been contracted by the U.S. government to produce extra masks in response to the country's novel coronavirus outbreak, in Maplewood, Minnesota, U.S. March 4, 2020. REUTERS/Nicholas Pfosi/File Photo
N95 masks at a 3M laboratory in Maplewood, Minnesota.

The fraudulent masks were quite convincing, and passed physical inspection and testing, according to the WSHA.

“They look, they fit, they breathe like a 3M mask,” Sauer told the Seattle Times. “They have fooled everybody.”

3M asked Washington state hospitals to submit samples of their N95 masks to the company’s fraud department for testing, and confirmed on Saturday that “at least some of the masks were not made by the company,” WSHA reported.

3M assigns lot numbers to groups of masks that are made and shipped together, but the company has identified dozens of lot numbers as counterfeit. Some masks with those false numbers are among the stock purchased by WSHA and other Washington state hospitals in December

It’s unclear whether the counterfeit masks function as well as authentic N95 masks. But Sauer said “there has been no increase in COVID cases from hospitals around the county where staff have been wearing these masks.”

N95 masks are highly coveted because they are the most protective face covering – the name refers to their minimum 95% efficiency at filtering aerosols. The masks seal tightly around the nose and mouth so that few viral particles can seep in or out, and they contain tangled fibers to catch airborne pathogens. That’s why they’re generally reserved for healthcare workers.

‘Distributors with no relationship to 3M’

n95 masks
A box of N95 face masks seen on April 3, 2020 in Cardiff, Wales.

3M has not disclosed how it discovered that fake versions of its masks were circulating in US hospitals. The manufacturer told CNN that the respirators in question weren’t authentic and had been “purchased from distributors with no relationship to 3M.”

“They’re coming from companies really just coming into existence,” Kevin Rhodes, 3M’s vice president and deputy general counsel, told the AP.

A medical supply company called Q2 Solutions, established in Guizhou, China, did not respond to Insider’s request for comment about whether it is the vendor named by DHS.

This isn’t the first time 3M has dealt with counterfeiters. It has filed 18 lawsuits related to illegal mask sales tactics, including reports of fraud and price-gauging.

US Customs and Border Protection has seized more than 12.7 million counterfeit masks since the pandemic began. A majority of those fakes were 3M knock-offs: Officials have confiscated 10 million counterfeit 3M masks, according to the AP.  

Read the original article on Business Insider

Washington state hospitals unknowingly bought 300,000 fake N95 masks for their healthcare workers

north dakota coronavirus
Nurse Dana Simmers dons a 3M N95 mask.

  • The Washington State Hospital Association unknowingly bought 300,000 counterfeit 3M masks in December.
  • The association distributed the fake masks to 40 hospitals, where healthcare workers used them.
  • The masks had the appropriate paperwork and passed physical inspection and testing.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Healthcare workers in at least 40 hospitals across Washington state may have been using fake N95 masks since December.

Mask manufacturer 3M informed the Washington State Hospital Association (WSHA) on Friday that some respirator masks being bought and used by US hospitals were counterfeit. The Department of Homeland Security told WSHA in an email that it had “identified a vendor” that may have provided the hospital association with counterfeit 3M masks.

“It is reprehensible that counterfeiters are selling fake goods,” Cassie Sauer, president and CEO of WSHA said in a press release.

CNN reported that Sauer declined to name the distributor that sold WSHA the counterfeit masks, but she confirmed it was one the association often used. The DHS email pinpointed a vendor named Q2 Solutions LLC, which the department said “may have provided WSHA with counterfeit 3M Model 1860 and 1860S N95 respirators.”

WSHA bought and distributed 300,000 counterfeit masks to their 40 member hospitals for $1.4 million, NBC News reported; about 20% of those masks remain unused in warehouses, however.

Sauer told the Seattle Times that Washington hospitals statewide received, in total, 2 million fake N95s. It’s unclear, she added, if the hospitals or WSHA would get their money back. 

Fake masks ‘fooled everybody’

Counterfeit respirators “may not be capable of providing appropriate respiratory protection to workers,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Following the Saturday announcement, hospitals across the state had to spend precious time and resources to identify, remove, and replace fake masks

FILE PHOTO: Various N95 respiration masks at a laboratory of 3M, which has been contracted by the U.S. government to produce extra masks in response to the country's novel coronavirus outbreak, in Maplewood, Minnesota, U.S. March 4, 2020. REUTERS/Nicholas Pfosi/File Photo
N95 masks at a 3M laboratory in Maplewood, Minnesota.

The fraudulent masks were quite convincing, and passed physical inspection and testing, according to the WSHA.

“They look, they fit, they breathe like a 3M mask,” Sauer told the Seattle Times. “They have fooled everybody.”

3M asked Washington state hospitals to submit samples of their N95 masks to the company’s fraud department for testing, and confirmed Saturday afternoon that “at least some of the masks were not made by the company,” WSHA reported.

3M assigns lot numbers to groups of masks that are made and shipped together, but the company has identified dozens of lot numbers as counterfeit. Some masks with those false numbers are among the stock purchased by WSHA and other Washington state hospitals in December

It’s unclear whether the counterfeit masks function as well as authentic N95 masks. But Sauer said “there has been no increase in COVID cases from hospitals around the county where staff have been wearing these masks.”

N95 masks are highly coveted because they are the most protective face covering – the name refers to their minimum 95% efficiency at filtering aerosols. The masks seal tightly around the nose and mouth so that few viral particles can seep in or out, and they contain tangled fibers to catch airborne pathogens. That’s why they’re generally reserved for healthcare workers.

‘Distributors with no relationship to 3M’

n95 masks
A box of N95 face masks seen on April 3, 2020 in Cardiff, Wales.

3M has not disclosed how it discovered that fake versions of its masks were circulating in US hospitals. The manufacturer told CNN that the respirators in question weren’t authentic and had been “purchased from distributors with no relationship to 3M.”

A medical supply company called Q2 Solutions, established in Guizhou, China, did not respond to Insider’s request for comment about whether it is the vendor named by DHS.

US Customs and Border Protection has seized more than 12.7 million counterfeit masks since the pandemic began.

Read the original article on Business Insider

The governor of Iowa lifted mask-wearing restrictions despite a new coronavirus variant in the state

kim reynolds iowa
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks at a news conference on the state’s guidance for returning to school in response to the coronavirus outbreak on July 30, 2020, in Des Moines, Iowa.

  • Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds rolled back several health restrictions in response to the pandemic.
  • Reynolds said on Friday that Iowans no longer need to wear masks in public, for example.
  • This update comes as Iowan health officials say they’ve detected new coronavirus variants.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds on Friday lifted several health restrictions intended to curb the spread of the coronavirus, the Omaha World-Herald reported.

Reynolds rolled back health practices like mask-wearing and capacity limitations indoors, despite officials noting in early February that the state has seen three coronavirus mutations

Reynolds said Iowans no longer have to wear face coverings in public, according to the Omaha World-Herald. She also said businesses no longer have to cap the number of people entering their establishing and can drop social distance guidelines. 

Meanwhile, Iowa county officials continue to urge caution. 

“Viruses constantly change through mutation, and new variants of a virus are expected to occur over time. Sometimes new variants emerge and disappear. Other times, new variants emerge and persist. Multiple variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 have been documented in the United States and globally during this pandemic,” Dr. Caitlin Pedati, an Iowa medical director and epidemiologist, said in a news release from the Iowa Department of Public Health.

“Public health will continue to work with our partners at [the State Hygienic Lab] to monitor these trends and it is very important that we all keep practicing good public health protective measures,” Pedati said. 

The state’s health department’s website encourages people to wash their hands often, continue to social distance, and wear a mask around others.

Reynolds’ office did not immediately return Insider’s request for comment.

Iowa has had at least 323,000 confirmed cases, according to the latest data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Of that, more than 5,000 people have died from the coronavirus. 

In the last week, Iowa almost topped its record-high number of deaths, according to Johns Hopkins data. Between December 6 and December 12 of last year, the state recorded 492 deaths from the coronavirus. Last week, the state hit 490 new deaths.

Reynolds’ updates to the state’s coronavirus health restrictions are in effect starting Sunday, the Omaha World-Herald reported. 

These new coronavirus variants can spread more easily and faster, according to the Iowa health department. Scientists are still trying to figure out whether the new variants lead to higher mortality rates.

Read the original article on Business Insider