The Delta surge might mean it’s time to up our mask game

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As the Delta variant surges around the U.S., many of us are anxious about how to combat the new and scary surge. The World Health Organization (W.H.O.) has stuck by their original advisory that vaccinated people should be masking indoors, but the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (C.D.C.) have been telling us since May that it’s okay to unmask if you're vaccinated. As usual, the conflicting advice from health officials has left us confused. To make matters even more complex, some experts are calling for more protective masks now, because they believe they’ll protect us better against the Delta variant.

The new mutations are trying to survive by any means necessary, and so it seems we should as well. That may mean upping our protection game, even if we’re vaccinated. “The weave of cloth masks is not small enough to protect you by blocking the tiny coronavirus molecule from entering your space,” says Sandra de Abreu Guidry-Street, an internal medicine physician in Denver. “Those masks only work if everyone wears one,” she explains. In other words, your mask mostly protects others around you and the mask others wear will protect you — not them, she adds.

The new mutations are trying to survive by any means necessary, and so it seems we should as well.

De Abreu Guidry-Street recommends wearing an N95 mask (which is technically a respirator rather than a mask) in crowded indoor spaces during these dog days of Delta, even if you’re vaccinated. Here’s where you can get real ones ethically, according to the New York Times.

No mask will offer complete protection because Delta is a sneaky little bugger, but N95 masks are known to filter out about 95% of particles, de Abreu Guidry-Street explains. That’s especially important right now, because Delta is more virulent than the OG strain of COVID-19, which means an infected person carries more of the variant than previous strains. Thus, you are exposed to more of the virus when you come into contact with an infected person.

As of today, the C.D.C. is recommending that some vaccinated people should resume masking indoors in public indoor spaces, and many public health experts agree with with de Abreu Guidry-Street that N95s are the way to go. “The quality of the mask does matter,” said Scott Gottlieb, former Food and Drug Administration commissioner said Sunday on Face the Nation. “So if you can get your hands on a KN95 mask or an N95 mask, that's going to afford you a lot more protection."

Just as a reminder, the vaccines have been proven to offer a good amount of protection against Delta, but breakthrough infections of COVID-19 are flaring up all over the country and while vaccinated people aren’t likely to experience severe illness or die, they can get sick and they may be able to spread infection. Still, it’s not all bad news, because while Delta is definitely more contagious, it doesn’t appear to be more deadly, particularly for vaccinated people.

There’s still a lot we don’t know about Delta, the vaccines, and even the OG novel coronavirus, so being proactive right now is wise. You don’t need to panic — the days of manic bleach benders are hopefully behind us — but taking a little extra precaution as we navigate this uncertain time won’t could definitely help.