We’re on the 11th month of the pandemic, and most of us have forgotten the sensation of walking through a grocery store without fabric covering our faces.
It’s kind of amazing how normal it’s become. Sure, there are still people who try to make a show of rebelling against common decency, but overall, we know that the best way to stop the spread and protect each other is to wear these masks, and in the name of getting back to our old version of normal as soon as we can, we happily skip the lipstick in favor of a swath of fabric.
But even though things are starting to look up, and slowly but surely people we know are getting vaccinated, that cute little collection of masks from Etsy might not be going into retirement as soon as you think. Here are a few things to keep in mind, and what we should expect over the coming months.
New Variants Are Making the Rounds
Every day we’re hearing more and more about new coronavirus variants coming out of the United Kingdom (also known as B.1.1.7), South Africa (known as 1.351), and Brazil (known as P.1). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) , these new variants look like they “spread more easily and quickly than other variants, which may lead to more cases of COVID-19.”
And while it looks like our current vaccines are standing up against the UK variant, South Africa actually halted their AstraZeneca vaccine rollout because early indications have shown that it’s not effective against that strain.
In short, both the variant strains and the vaccines are too new, and we don’t know everything about them. So it’s better to take precautions wherever we can.
The Vaccine’s Effects Aren’t Immediate
Perhaps even more importantly, the moment you get your vaccine you aren’t magically immune to either contracting or spreading the virus. Not only will you need two scheduled doses, but it can take several weeks for it to go into full effect, leaving you plenty of time to still get sick – or get someone else sick – if you go sans mask.
“While the vaccine may protect an individual from getting COVID-19 symptoms, we don’t know if it confers immunity, which prevents the spread of the virus,” says physician Dr. Robert Firshein.
“It takes time to get the benefits of the vaccine—by some estimates 6-8 weeks or more. People have gotten COVID two weeks after getting the vaccine with current Moderna and BioNtech versions. So, until everyone is vaccinated, we still need to social distance and wear masks.”
You Might Still Spread Covid Even if You Don’t Get Sick
Because it’s possible that the vaccine can protect you from symptoms, but not the virus itself, that could mean that getting vaccinated could pose even more of a risk to the people you love, especially if you get too confident and let your guard down.
“It’s possible that someone who is vaccinated may be a greater risk to another person because they are less likely to cover themselves or restrict themselves to less risky behaviors,” Dr. Fishein explains.
That goes double for hanging out with a friend who’s also been vaccinated. Because the first thing you’ll want to do is hang out like in the old days, right? No masks, staying warm and comfy indoors somewhere, maybe even with — gasp! — a hug hello and goodbye?
Not so fast. The same contact tracing rules have to apply here. If either you or your friend are an asymptomatic carrier, you could still spread one of those variants to other unsuspecting members of your circles, who could spread it to someone else in theirs, who could be older or immune-compromised.
The Type of Mask You Wear Matters
So what does this all mean? I’m not here to spread doom and gloom – I swear I’m not – I’m just keeping an eye on the finish line and hope that you do too. Vaccines are starting to roll out, but that doesn’t mean we can get careless or let our guards down. In fact, if anything, we need to be more vigilant in the coming months.
President Biden’s new measures will hopefully go a long way – he recently signed a federal mask mandate stating that all Americans must wear masks when traveling in airports and on planes, buses, ships, and trains. He also signed an order saying that people must wear masks on federal property.
But we’ve all got to do our part too. That means wearing the right type of mask (medical grade or a fabric mask with several layers that you can’t see light through), wear them correctly (for the love of all that is good and holy, cover your nose too), and even double up when possible.
And then one day, hopefully sooner rather than later, we can get back to real life again.