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Why face masks belong at your holiday gathering – 7 things you need to know about wearing them

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Professor, Infectious Disease-Trained Epidemiologist and Nurse Practitioner, Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing
Jason Farley, PhD, MPH, ANP-BC, FAAN receives funding from the National Institutes of Health on the Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics for COVID-19 and Becton Dickinson for studies on SARS-CoV-2 diagnostics.

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COVID-19 has disrupted our daily lives, and it is poised to completely disrupt the holiday season. As people make holiday plans and think about ways to reduce the risks to their loved ones, a strategy is essential.
Face masks are a crucial part of that strategy, and they’re now mandatory in public in an increasing number of states as COVID-19 cases soar.

I am an infectious disease-trained epidemiologist, researcher and nurse practitioner. Here are answers to some key questions about how and when to wear masks, and how to manage their use during the holidays.
If you’re gathering with friends and family who don’t live in your home, yes. Just because you’re with people you know doesn’t mean you’re safe from the coronavirus. Infection rates are higher now than they have ever been in the U.S., and small gatherings have been a source of viral spread. All it takes is one infected person who doesn’t know they have the coronavirus to infect others.
Remember, people can be contagious two to three days before symptoms show – that’s one thing that makes this virus so hard to stop. And it’s why, even if you feel fine, you should wear a mask.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now estimates that when both people are wearing masks, the likelihood of infection is low.
In a word: everyone. The coronavirus spreads through respiratory droplets that you send out into the air when you talk, sing or even just breathe. The tiniest of these droplets can float on air currents for long periods.
Face masks stop many of those droplets, reducing the amount of virus in the air. That lowers your chances of getting infected, and it also lowers the chances that you’ll infect someone else.
Studies of people who had prolonged exposure to others with COVID-19 have demonstrated how masks can reduce the chance of the virus spreading. In general, well-fitted cloth masks made up of multiple layers can stop most large droplets and at least half of the tiny ones. Plastic face shields alone are far less effective. Face masks with valves or vents might be good for construction work, but they don’t stop the wearer from breathing out virus into the air.
Reusable masks should be kept clean and dry. We’re moving into cold and flu season, and noses get drippy. A rule of thumb: Anytime a mask is wet to the point that you can discern the wetness, it’s time for a new one if it’s disposable, or it’s time to clean your reusable mask.
Wetness allows viruses to more easily move through paper or fabric because it allows the threads to move and may reduce the electrostatic charge in the masks that add extra protection with some fabrics.
In general, you can use a mask that stays clean and dry for about a week before you need to wash or discard it.
Washing your mask is like washing your clothes. You know when it is time.
In general, cleaning your mask weekly should be sufficient. If odors develop before then, it’s a good idea to wash it sooner. Odor generally means bacterial buildup.
Cleaning your mask by hand with soap and water is your best option. Using a general detergent on a gentle cycle in the washing machine is also fine, but that may increase the risk of damage, depending on the quality of the material. COVID-19 is not a hardy virus. Any soap or detergent should work fine. There’s no need for special chemicals, bleach or harsh soaps.
Be careful to remove any inserts before washing. Inserted filters are generally not washable.
Air drying masks works best. Remember, masks should be completely dry before use. So be sure to have a replacement mask handy while the one you just washed dries.
Sunlight is always a great source of heat to dry your mask. Also, sunlight has ultraviolet radiation, which has been shown to eliminate coronavirus and is also known to have antibacterial properties.
Wearing your mask below your nose is, frankly, ridiculous.
Think about it. If you are breathing through your nose and only covering your mouth, you are effectively eliminating the point of the mask. Properly wearing a mask requires covering both your nose and mouth at all times.
Studies show that wearing a proper cloth mask or surgical mask while exercising doesn’t affect the flow of oxygen or carbon dioxide in any detectable way. So, unless you have serious heart and lung problems, that isn’t an excuse.
When you take your mask off, remove it carefully by the straps without touching anything else and put it somewhere safe, like wrapped in paper in a purse, bag or pocket. Then wash your hands or use hand sanitizer. When you put it back on, wash your hands again.
The safest way to celebrate this year is to do so with members only within your household. The CDC is now stressing that point, as well. If you do celebrate with friends and relatives from outside your household, you need an action plan to reduce the risk of exposure.
Here are five recommendations:
Limit the number of people – fewer people means fewer opportunities for exposure, and you’ll have more room to spread out.
Require masks when not eating or drinking.
Use physical distancing when eating. Try to seat people at least 6 feet apart. Eat outside if you can.
Consider being tested for COVID-19 before traveling or gathering. It’s not a guarantee, but it can help flag illnesses. Remember to self-isolate between the test and the event.
Be prepared to self-isolate for 14 days after traveling or participating in any event that involves people from outside your home.
[Research into coronavirus and other news from science Subscribe to The Conversation’s new science newsletter.]
The map has been updated with New Hampshire announcing a mask mandate effective Nov. 20.
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Your corner pharmacy – joining the front lines of the COVID-19 fight

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Director of Skills Education and Clinical Assistant Professor of Pharmacy Practice, Binghamton University, State University of New York
Assistant Professor, Department of Pharmacy Practice, Jefferson College of Pharmacy, Thomas Jefferson University
The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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The new year has brought the deadliest weeks of the U.S. COVID-19 epidemic thus far, with thousands of deaths every day. It’s been several weeks since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued the first of two emergency use authorizations for COVID-19 vaccines, but getting one isn’t easy.
There are no available appointments to get a vaccine in many communities. Wait times at California’s Dodger Stadium, the nation’s largest distribution site, reached five hours earlier this month. At the current rate, it could take until 2022 for all adult Americans to be vaccinated, according to some estimates.
The Biden administration is trying to change that. The national strategy President Biden rolled out in his first week in office includes a target of injecting 100 million vaccines during his first 100 days as president and strengthening distribution to high-risk communities.
A key component of the president’s five-step vaccine plan, he said, is to “fully activate the pharmacies across the country.” This will greatly expand the number of providers to administer vaccines – and expand the role of pharmacists in the pandemic in the weeks and months ahead.
As pharmacists who work in both rural and urban settings, we are among those who are preparing to meet this challenge.
With the slow rollout, community pharmacies are being brought on board much sooner than anticipated. They’ve been an underutilized resource: U.S. pharmacies have experience storing and administering many types of vaccines. In 2018, they gave about one-third of all flu shots, up from 18% in 2012. They are now preparing to handle the new Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines.
These messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines have a new, but not unknown, mechanism. The Moderna vaccine can be kept in a traditional freezer, but the Pfizer vaccine requires ultra-cold storage at -112 to -76 F before being thawed and administered. Health systems and federal partner pharmacies equipped with these specialized freezers are key hubs for distribution.
It’s not just the vaccine that needs to be protected. Pharmacies are stockpiling personal protective equipment to keep staff safe. They have also established safety protocols for patients – social distancing, disinfection and observation for 15 to 30 minutes after vaccination.
There are also administrative requirements, issuing immunization cards to those who have been immunized and reporting the number of administered doses to state and federal officials.
Pharmacies are registering with the searchable Vaccine Finder website – where people will be able to search for participating pharmacies. The vaccine is free: Insurance companies will be billed an administration fee, though a national relief fund covers that cost for the uninsured.
Under a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services mandate, pharmacists and pharmacist interns who have completed a minimum of 20 hours of accredited training are authorized to administer COVID-19 vaccines.
While health departments and local officials are working to share information, many people are calling their local pharmacies with questions. Because the vaccine was produced, tested and approved in record time, some are questioning its safety. It was produced quickly because government funding fast-tracked various phases of development, allowing them to be conducted simultaneously rather than sequentially. Thousands of volunteers signed up for clinical trials, speeding the process, and emergency FDA approval allowed for rollout while some phase 3 studies are completed.
People are also concerned about contracting coronavirus from the vaccine, which is impossible. Neither mRNA vaccine contains live virus; they simply teach the body to recognize the unique spike protein on the outside of the COVID-19 virus to create a faster immune response to the invader if exposed. Two doses must be spaced 21 to 28 days apart, and it takes another few weeks after the second dose to reach full immunity.
Some who have called us are worried about possible side effects. The most commonly reported aftereffect is pain and swelling at the injection site; some individuals have also reported chills, fever, headache or fatigue. While this may be uncomfortable, it’s not alarming: These are all signs that the immune system is doing its job.
We have also helped explain to people why all are monitored after their shot. A few people have had serious allergic reactions – anaphylactic shock, which is why there is an established observation period after the vaccine that is longer for anyone with a history of allergies. Pharmacists are trained to respond to these rare reactions should they occur.
There have also been reports of individuals who have died within days or weeks of receiving the vaccine. Researchers are investigating these rare events, but so far, there is no evidence that the vaccine is responsible. Unrelated or “incidental” illness seems to be the culprit, which is unsurprising given the demographics – many of those vaccinated in the early rollout are elderly people who are in frail health.
Vaccines have the power to bring this pandemic under control. They could possibly even end it, but only after some 70% of humanity is inoculated. Almost 90% of Americans live within five miles of a local pharmacy where, starting in February, many will be able to get vaccinated against this virus.
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How to stay safe with a fast-spreading new coronavirus variant on the loose

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Bayard D. Clarkson Distinguished Professor of Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering, Clarkson University
Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Clarkson University
Suresh Dhaniyala receives funding from National Science Foundation and NY State Energy Research and Development Authority.
Byron Erath receives funding from the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the Empire State Development's Division of Science, Technology and Innovation (NYSTAR)

Clarkson University provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
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A fast-spreading variant of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 has been found in at least 20 states, and people are wondering: How do I protect myself now?
We saw what the new variant, known as B.1.1.7, can do as it spread quickly through southeastern England in December, causing case numbers to spike and triggering stricter lockdown measures.
The new variant has been estimated to be 50% more easily transmitted than common variants, though it appears to affect people’s health in the same way. The increased transmissibility is believed to arise from a change in the virus’s spike protein that can allow the virus to more easily enter cells. These and other studies on the new variant were released before peer review to share their findings quickly.
Additionally, there is some evidence that patients infected with the new B.1.1.7 variant may have a higher viral load. That means they may expel more virus-containing particles when they breathe, talk or sneeze.
As professors who study fluid dynamics and aerosols, we investigate how airborne particles carrying viruses spread. There is still a lot that scientists and doctors don’t know about the coronavirus and its mutations, but there are some clear strategies people can use to protect themselves.

The SARS-CoV-2 variants are believed to spread primarily through the air rather than on surfaces.
When someone with the coronavirus in their respiratory tract coughs, talks, sings or even just breathes, infectious respiratory droplets can be expelled into the air. These droplets are tiny, predominantly in the range of 1-100 micrometers. For comparison, a human hair is about 70 micrometers in diameter.
The larger droplets fall to the ground quickly, rarely traveling farther than 6 feet from the source. The bigger problem for disease transmission is the tiniest droplets – those less than 10 micrometers in diameter – which can remain suspended in the air as aerosols for hours at a time.
With people possibly having more virus in their bodies and the virus being more infectious, everyone should take extra care and precautions. Wearing face masks and social distancing are essential.
Spaces and activities that were previously deemed “safe,” such as some indoor work environments, may present an elevated infection risk as the variant spreads.
The concentration of aerosol particles is usually highest right next to the individual emitting the particles and decreases with distance from the source. However, in indoor environments, aerosol concentration levels can quickly build up, similar to how cigarette smoke accumulates within enclosed spaces. This is particularly problematic in spaces that have poor ventilation.
With the new variant, aerosol concentration levels that might not have previously posed a risk could now lead to infection.

1) Pay attention to the type of face mask you use, and how it fits.
Most off-the-shelf face coverings are not 100% effective at preventing droplet emission. With the new variant spreading more easily and likely infectious at lower concentrations, it’s important to select coverings with materials that are most effective at stopping droplet spread.
When available, N95 and surgical masks consistently perform the best. Otherwise, face coverings that use multiple layers of material are preferable. Ideally, the material should be a tight weave. High thread count cotton sheets are an example. Proper fit is also crucial, as gaps around the nose and mouth can decrease the effectiveness by 50%.
2) Follow social distancing guidelines.
While the current social distancing guidelines are not perfect – 6 feet isn’t always enough – they do offer a useful starting point. Because aerosol concentrations levels and infectivity are highest in the space immediately surrounding anyone with the virus, increasing physical distancing can help reduce risk. Remember that people are infectious before they start showing symptoms, and they many never show symptoms, so don’t count on seeing signs of illness.
3) Think carefully about the environment when entering an enclosed area, both the ventilation and how people interact.
Limiting the size of gatherings helps reduce the potential for exposure. Controlling indoor environments in other ways can also be a highly effective strategy for reducing risk. This includes increasing ventilation rates to bring in fresh air and filtering existing air to dilute aerosol concentrations.
On a personal level, it is helpful to pay attention to the types of interactions that are taking place. For example, many individuals shouting can create a higher risk than one individual speaking. In all cases, it’s important to minimize the amount of time spent indoors with others.
The CDC has warned that B.1.1.7 could become the dominant SARS-CoV-2 variant in the U.S. by March. Other fast-spreading variants have also been found in Brazil and South Africa. Increased vigilance and complying with health guidelines should continue to be of highest priority.
[Deep knowledge, daily. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter.]
This story was updated Jan. 18 with latest CDC count and map showing B.1.1.7 cases now found in 20 states.
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Coronavirus

How to stay safe with a new fast-spreading coronavirus variant on the loose

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Bayard D. Clarkson Distinguished Professor of Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering, Clarkson University
Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Clarkson University
Suresh Dhaniyala receives funding from National Science Foundation and NY State Energy Research and Development Authority.
Byron Erath receives funding from the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the Empire State Development's Division of Science, Technology and Innovation (NYSTAR)

Clarkson University provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
View all partners
A fast-spreading variant of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 has been found in at least 10 states, and people are wondering: How do I protect myself now?
We saw what the new variant, known as B.1.1.7, can do as it spread quickly through southeastern England in December, causing case numbers to spike and triggering stricter lockdown measures.
The new variant has been estimated to be 50% more easily transmitted than common variants, though it appears to affect people’s health in the same way. The increased transmissibility is believed to arise from a change in the virus’s spike protein that can allow the virus to more easily enter cells. These and other studies on the new variant were released before peer review to share their findings quickly.
Additionally, there is some evidence that patients infected with the new B.1.1.7 variant may have a higher viral load. That means they may expel more virus-containing particles when they breathe, talk or sneeze.
As professors who study fluid dynamics and aerosols, we investigate how airborne particles carrying viruses spread. There is still a lot that scientists and doctors don’t know about the coronavirus and its mutations, but there are some clear strategies people can use to protect themselves.
The SARS-CoV-2 variants are believed to spread primarily through the air rather than on surfaces.
When someone with the coronavirus in their respiratory tract coughs, talks, sings or even just breathes, infectious respiratory droplets can be expelled into the air. These droplets are tiny, predominantly in the range of 1-100 micrometers. For comparison, a human hair is about 70 micrometers in diameter.
The larger droplets fall to the ground quickly, rarely traveling farther than 6 feet from the source. The bigger problem for disease transmission is the tiniest droplets – those less than 10 micrometers in diameter – which can remain suspended in the air as aerosols for hours at a time.
With people possibly having more virus in their bodies and the virus being more infectious, everyone should take extra care and precautions. Wearing face masks and social distancing are essential.
Spaces and activities that were previously deemed “safe,” such as some indoor work environments, may present an elevated infection risk as the variant spreads.
The concentration of aerosol particles is usually highest right next to the individual emitting the particles and decreases with distance from the source. However, in indoor environments, aerosol concentration levels can quickly build up, similar to how cigarette smoke accumulates within enclosed spaces. This is particularly problematic in spaces that have poor ventilation.
With the new variant, aerosol concentration levels that might not have previously posed a risk could now lead to infection.

1) Pay attention to the type of face mask you use, and how it fits.
Most off-the-shelf face coverings are not 100% effective at preventing droplet emission. With the new variant spreading more easily and likely infectious at lower concentrations, it’s important to select coverings with materials that are most effective at stopping droplet spread.
When available, N95 and surgical masks consistently perform the best. Otherwise, face coverings that use multiple layers of material are preferable. Ideally, the material should be a tight weave. High thread count cotton sheets are an example. Proper fit is also crucial, as gaps around the nose and mouth can decrease the effectiveness by 50%.
2) Follow social distancing guidelines.
While the current social distancing guidelines are not perfect – 6 feet isn’t always enough – they do offer a useful starting point. Because aerosol concentrations levels and infectivity are highest in the space immediately surrounding anyone with the virus, increasing physical distancing can help reduce risk. Remember that people are infectious before they start showing symptoms, and they many never show symptoms, so don’t count on seeing signs of illness.
3) Think carefully about the environment when entering an enclosed area, both the ventilation and how people interact.
Limiting the size of gatherings helps reduce the potential for exposure. Controlling indoor environments in other ways can also be a highly effective strategy for reducing risk. This includes increasing ventilation rates to bring in fresh air and filtering existing air to dilute aerosol concentrations.
On a personal level, it is helpful to pay attention to the types of interactions that are taking place. For example, many individuals shouting can create a higher risk than one individual speaking. In all cases, it’s important to minimize the amount of time spent indoors with others.
The CDC has warned that B.1.1.7 could become the dominant SARS-CoV-2 variant in the U.S. by March. Other fast-spreading variants have also been found in Brazil and South Africa. Increased vigilance and complying with health guidelines should continue to be of highest priority.
[Deep knowledge, daily. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter.]
Write an article and join a growing community of more than 119,500 academics and researchers from 3,844 institutions.
Register now
Copyright © 2010–2021, The Conversation US, Inc.

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