Dr. Gupta: How to assess risk when going mask-free
June 8, 2021. Summarized by summa-bot.
Compression ratio: 22.2%. 2 min read.
For more than a year now, many of us have followed the standard drill: wash our hands, stay 6 feet apart, choose outdoor activities over indoors, and -- most of all -- wear a mask.
This incremental loosening -- too slow for some people -- accelerated very quickly in mid-May, when the CDC surprised the public by announcing that fully vaccinated people no longer needed to wear masks outdoors or even indoors, except in a few circumstances.
Where we once had one universal, simple rule to follow -- wear a mask -- we each now have to perform a complicated calculus of risk assessment on a daily, if not hourly basis, as we navigate toward post-pandemic life.
Wittenberg said that we're not used to doing the kind of math that's required for the risk assessment involving the new mask guidance: We can't rely on the "existing calculus in our heads" because the situation is not familiar.
And she said that it makes taking a risk, like whether to dine indoors, board a plane or attend that concert, even harder.
When trying to assess your risk, remember that the CDC is talking about vaccinated people going maskless, not unvaccinated people.
Number two: get your family and those closest to you vaccinated," he said.
And the second point -- and this is important for people who live with a child under 12 or someone who for health-related reasons can't mount an immune response from a vaccine -- even if you do get infected, the science is beginning to show that you're very unlikely to then be contagious enough to spread the virus to somebody else in your family or community.
Bromage, who also consults with organizations and businesses to find ways to lower the risk of infection in workplaces, said since the CDC changed the mask guidance, he's received "non-stop" calls from worried clients wondering how to proceed.
They're [the vaccines] amazing in that respect," he said.
"So, the indication would be that they would have a harder time transmitting and they almost certainly would have a harder time transmitting to a vaccinated person," he said.
Bromage said that for individuals who don't work in call center-like conditions -- most of us -- it's really about assessing the situation that you're in and taking steps to mitigate the risk.
"The best vaccine reduces your risk 10-fold of being infected," he said.
Physical distancing and avoiding high risk situations -- restaurants, gyms, things like that -- also have a multiplicative factor in regards to risk reduction. " He said the Swiss cheese model of adding different layers of protection can lower your risk of being infected "30-, 40-, 50-fold. "
Hammitt echoes what Wittenberg and Konnikova said, we're never going to have enough information to estimate the risk of anything perfectly.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children age 2 or older who are not fully vaccinated still wear a mask when out in public -- including at camp, when playing with friends, and while playing outdoor sports with close contact and indoor sports.
Another group that's also probably more risk-averse: people who don't mount a strong immune response to the vaccine either because they are immunocompromised or take certain medications that suppress their immune system, like drugs for rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease.