A lot of news on the COVID-19 front over the past week or so!
Masks. A new study examined the efficacy of different types of masks, from N95s to surgical masks to bandanas and neck gaiters. This study was primarily designed to verify the method of testing masks, not to test specific masks. That said, its results roughly correlate with other similar research. Surgical masks are the most effective masks that you can buy right now (N95s are more effective, but not available.) Cloth masks with a cotton/polypropylene blend and multiple layers are also good; bandanas and neck gaiters, not so much. Here’s a good summary of the study.
Immunity. The evidence that immunity to COVID-19 is longstanding is growing. This seems to be true even after mild infections. There is also some evidence that people who haven’t been exposed to SARS-CoV-2 may have immunity to it from exposure to previous coronaviruses that cause the common cold. This has led some scientists to speculate that herd immunity may be closer than previously believed (though this is still controversial).
Long COVID-19. On the other hand, I’m increasingly concerned about the long-term effects of COVID-19. A disturbing number of people don’t fully recover from COVID-19, and experience debilitating symptoms like shortness of breath, post-exertion malaise (similar to ME/CFS), tremors, severe brain fog, and more. Unfortunately, “Long COVID-19” is not rare; current estimates suggest that hundreds of thousands of people in the United States alone may be affected. See this article for more information.
Testing. What if you could take a COVID-19 test at home every day and get results in just 15 minutes? Dr. Michael Mina, a professor of epidemiology at Harvard, argues that this type of testing could effectively end the pandemic in a matter of weeks if it was available. The technology already exists, but these rapid tests are not yet approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Hopefully that will change soon. The FDA did just approve a rapid and more affordable saliva test that was created at Yale, but this test still has to be processed at labs with sophisticated equipment, so it’s not likely to have as big of an impact as at-home, rapid results testing would.
Schools. As I’m sure you’ve seen in the media, a number of schools—from elementary schools to universities—have had to shut down because of COVID-19 outbreaks. Unfortunately, I expect this trend to continue and accelerate in communities where the positive test rate >5 percent (which is most places) as more students go back to school. It’s simply too difficult in most cases for distancing, proper ventilation, masks, and other preventive measures to be maintained.
This week’s update brings many reasons for optimism (improved testing, better understanding of mask efficacy, likelihood of lasting immunity), but also reasons for caution and concern (school closures and Long COVID-19).
We’re all weary, but it’s too soon to let our guard down just yet. I’m hopeful that rapid, at-home testing might be available by this fall, which would be a game-changer. Fingers crossed!
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