Importance of Vaccinations and Boosters
The start of the pandemic’s third year hasn’t been bright. Cases across the country are surging at record highs.
The skyrocketing cases in COVID-19 cases across Oregon, and especially in the Tri-County area, are an urgent reminder that we all have a role to play in keeping our communities and families safe. That means getting vaccinated and boosted if you haven’t already.
Breakthrough cases seem to be all around us. Getting tested even if you have mild symptoms, or have been exposed to someone who has tested positive, is so important to catch symptomatic and asymptomatic infections so that we can minimize the spread. Getting timely tests is challenging right now because of the overwhelming number of cases, but you can use this great tool to find rapid and PCR tests near you, or find a vaccine or booster site.
If it has been 5 months since you (or other family members) received your last Moderna or Pfizer vaccination, or 2 months since receiving the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, NOW is the time to get boosted. Children ages 5 and up are now eligible to be vaccinated. The FDA authorized booster doses of the Pfizer vaccine for 12- to 15-year-olds and third primary dose/booster for certain immunocompromised children ages 5 to 11.
By the way, the very definition of ‘fully vaccinated’ is shifting to include having received a booster shot, because they add such an additional ‘boost’ to the immune response to Omicron and preventing serious illness. That is not yet an official designation, but the science and public health experts, as well as some businesses and educational institutions, are moving in that direction. (And so am I).
Please don’t delay. Find a vaccine or booster site, or rapid and PCR tests with this online tool.
Vaccines Are Working
And not just working okay – they are working incredibly well. I know this is hard to believe when so many around us are testing positive and breakthrough cases are through the roof. But vaccines are doing their primary job: keeping people out of the hospital, with data across the country and the globe showing a clear distinction in hospitalizations among vaccinated compared to unvaccinated.
Vaccinations remain highly effective at preventing severe COVID-19 illnesses, and the Omicron variant is milder than earlier versions of the virus. This combination means that most Americans — including children and vaccinated adults — face moderate to little personal risk from Omicron, especially if boosted. The risk is not zero, to be clear, even among people who are generally healthy.
For the unvaccinated, the situation is very different. Omicron is still severe enough that it will lead to debilitating illness and death for many unvaccinated people. In much of the U.S., a large number of adults — including older adults — remain unvaccinated.
All Mitigation Efforts are Still Relevant, in My Clinic and Elsewhere
I’m circling back around to remind all my patients that since coronavirus isn’t going away anytime soon, the continued need for measures such as frequent hand-washing, social distancing and wearing masks in public — both indoors and some outdoor situations, and being aware of people’s health/vaccine status that you choose to be in contact with — continues to be paramount in order to help to slow the spread of the virus.
The layered approach (vaccine, booster, mask, social distancing, ventilation, testing) is crucial, especially in light of Omicron.
Cloth Masks Are Not Enough
With the new COVID-10 variant surging, doctors advise doubling up or trying N95 masks. Different quality masks offer different quality protection. Be informed!
Doctors and healthcare systems (and I!) say it is time to change your face masks – cloth masks alone simply do not provide enough protection against the virus. Single-layer or even multi-layer cloth masks, which many people prefer for comfort and style, can block larger droplets carrying the virus, but aren’t as effective in blocking smaller aerosols or particles carrying the virus, according to infectious-disease specialists. And in fact, they can create even more fine and therefore more transmissible virus particles – it is so counterproductive!
Health experts (including me, I am a healthcare expert!) are urging the public to opt for three-ply surgical masks with KN95 masks or well-fitting N95 masks, which offer significantly more protection against the highly contagious Omicron variant. Or at the very minimum, double layer, first with a surgical model that has an adjustable bridge/nose piece, then covered with a cloth mask as the second layer.
Omicron spreads exponentially more easily than other known coronavirus variants and therefore is extremely transmissible – even through thick multi-layered fabric face masks. So moving forward, cloth masks alone, even when doubled, are not acceptable for patient visits at my clinic.
Both N95s (especially the ‘fish’-type N95s) and KN95 masks are very inexpensive, and much more comfortable than cloth masks, because they have a dome-fit that isn’t flat on your mouth the way cloth masks fit.
Wearing the right mask or combination of the right masks — the right way — can be the most powerful tool in your arsenal to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Mask effectiveness is certainly dependent on the type of mask. The Wall Street Journal published a great graphic earlier this week comparing the protection of different types of masks:
Different Quality Masks Offer Different Protection
N95 vs. KN95 face masks: What’s the difference?
While both masks are considered very effective in protecting wearers from the transfer of aerosol particulates, filtering out up to 95%, KN95 masks are simply considered the foreign equivalent of N95 masks.
The difference between the two has to do with which regulating bodies oversee and test the effectiveness of these masks.
N95 masks, which are tested, approved and certified by the U.S. National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), have a denser network of fibers than surgical or cloth masks. That tighter mesh, together with an electrostatic charge in the material, generally makes such masks the most efficient at trapping larger droplets and aerosols that are exhaled by the wearer. They also better block such particles from being inhaled. Properly fitted, certified N95 masks can filter up to 95% of particles in the air.
Because KN95 masks aren’t overseen and vetted by NIOSH, they aren’t considered as effective as the U.S.-certified N95 masks. But when fitted properly are an excellent first layer of protection.
From The Wall Street Journal:
“Because KN95 [and N95] masks have a filter layer made of polypropylene, which is a type of plastic, they are effective at trapping small particles. The extra layer provides a higher level of protection against COVID-19 when compared to cloth or surgical masks.” (See image below)
What masks are required for office visits?
I continue to require all patients double mask, but strongly encourage, and personally request that KN95 is the first layer, and the second layer be a 3‑layer surgical mask, with an adjustable wire for the bridge of the nose. If you have a well-fitting/properly fitting N95 (without a valve), that would also be acceptable.
Where are the best masks available?
If you are looking to sift through and find the best N95 or KN95 mask styles to fit your face, or just want a variety of price points to pick from, N95 Medical Supplies has a plethora of styles to choose from in small or large quantities. They are one of the top retailers of N95 masks, so they have a huge inventory and rarely sell out of the masks they carry.
You can find KN95 masks in almost any big box store right now if you are willing to make a trip. Lowe’s has KN95 masks available in a 10-pack for under $20 and these come with a thin metal bracket to help better contour the mask around your nose for improved comfort. Home Depot has KN95 masks as well, and also carry N95 that are the ‘fish’-style which are very effective and very comfortable. And surgical-style masks can be found in all major pharmacies.
Here’s another great resource for mask information (including KN95 for kids and about KF94’s) via The Strategist.
Make Sure Your Masks Fits!
Here is a guide and my expectation.
A well-fitted mask can provide long-lasting protection. Here’s how to target problem areas and ensure a good fit with different types of masks.
- Loose ear loops
- Gaps around the cheek and chin
- Unbent nose wires
What to Do
1. Knot, tuck and bend
- Tie a knot in the ear loops of a 3‑ply mask
- Tuck the extra material under the edges
- Bend wire over your nose for a secure fit
2. Wear a KN95 or N95 mask
- One of its many layers is made from a type of plastic where electrostatic filtration occurs
- Made with a nose wire for a custom fit
3. Wear two masks
- Disposable mask, preferably KN95, as first layer
- Add a surgical mask (with a nose piece) or cloth mask on top with multiple layers of fabric over your disposable mask. The top mask will hold the disposable mask closer to your face for a better fit
Sources: CDC; National Institute of Standards and Technology
Jemal R. Brinson/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
- Please be vaccinated and boosted.
- Please comply with my mask requirements and up-level your masking to meet the current Omicron situation and my clinic requirement.
- Please know all my mitigation strategies are still in place and my waiting area is closed. See my COVID-19 webpage if you need a refresher.
- All masks must be securely in place before entering my clinic.
- Do not enter my clinic, unless I give you a text that it is okay for you to enter.
- Please be completely transparent about any symptoms, no matter how mild, and any possible exposures. Talk to me ahead of time by phone.
- Please be completely transparent about travel and leisure activity.
- Please understand because of the current Omicron situation, appointments may be subject to last minute cancellation for the safety of all.
Thank you everyone, for understanding, for working with me, and for doing what it takes to continue to promote good health and keep everyone safe!
And as always, please do not hesitate to reach out with any questions or concerns via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone, 971.216.9913.