Why Fully Vaccinated People Everywhere Still Need Masks Indoors

Keeping up with Covid-19 updates

Thanks to the rapidly spreading Delta variant, and waning immunity from earlier vaccines, it’s still mask season in the United States—even for fully vaccinated people located in just about any part of the country.

“The guidance in this situation and evidence that we have about mask-wearing has really evolved as the Delta variant has taken off,” says Jennifer Balkus, PhD, assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Washington School of Public Health. “[Masks are] an incredibly important and easy and accessible tool to use. There’s no doubt about their efficacy.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)  recommends that fully vaccinated people wear masks in public, indoor settings only in areas of the country with “substantial or high transmission” rates.

However, 97 percent of the country is now considered to have a substantial or high transmission rate, according to the CDC’s Covid Data Tracker (as of September 10, 2021). That means that effectively, if you are fully vaccinated, you should be wearing a mask in indoor public places no matter where you are located.

The mask recommendation never went away for people who are unvaccinated, so if you are not vaccinated and age 2 or older, you should be wearing a mask in indoor public places.

Here’s what we know right now about mask-wearing for fully vaccinated people.

Covid-19 cases are soaring

Covid cases are surging, especially in areas with higher percentages of unvaccinated people like Florida, Mississippi, and Tennessee.

More Covid-19 hospitalizations occurred this Labor Day than last year. The healthcare system in Idaho is so overburdened that officials are now rationing care.

To date, about 40 million people in the U.S. have been infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19.

Even vaccinated people can get infected

The three existing Covid-19 vaccines are still effective against the Delta variant, but not quite as effective as they are against the original strain of the virus.

That means you can get infected and sick even if you’ve had your one Johnson & Johnson shot or your two Pfizer or Moderna shots. These are called breakthrough infections. (You’re considered fully vaccinated two weeks after your last Covid-19 inoculation.)

And while breakthrough infections are usually relatively mild in vaccinated people compared to infections in unvaccinated people, they can be serious.

“Breakthroughs are still a concern,” says Ravina Kullar, PharmD, a fellow of the Infectious Diseases Society of America and adjunct faculty at UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine. “I’ve seen breakthrough infections where people have been hospitalized, and we still don’t know the risk of post-Covid complications.”

Infected vaccinated people can spread the virus

Anyone who tests positive for Covid-19, vaccinated or unvaccinated, can still transmit the virus.

This is true whether or not you have symptoms, says Dr. Kullar. And Delta is way, way more infectious than the earlier strain.

The number of viral particles in an infected person’s nose and throat is more than 1,000 times higher with Delta. Higher viral load means easy spreading.

By one estimate, you only have to be in contact with a Covid-19 infected person for one second to get infected yourself, says Dr. Kullar.

© mixetto/Getty Images

The vaccine doesn’t fully protect some people

The vaccines don’t work equally well for everybody.

People who have weakened immune systems because they take immunosuppressive drugs after an organ transplant, are undergoing chemotherapy, have HIV/AIDS, or another condition don’t get as much protection.

That’s why the Food and Drug Administration authorized in August a third dose of Pfizer or Moderna for people in this category.

If you are positive for SARS-CoV-2, no matter vaccination status, you could infect someone who has a higher chance of becoming severely ill.

The vaccines become less effective over time

Emerging evidence also indicates that vaccine effectiveness is waning as time passes, says Dr. Kullar.

This is why the White House announced that it would like to start boosters in September on a rolling basis eight months after the first round. That initiative is waiting for a green light from the FDA and the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.

And don’t forget, the vaccine is not authorized for anyone under the age of 12.

(Here are 7 things you need to know about Covid-19 boosters shots.)

Masks are effective

Multiple studies confirm that masks work to slow Covid-19 infections. No one knows exactly how much, but research indicates the reduction could be as high as 70 percent, 80 percent, or higher.

But you have to have the right mask and wear it correctly.

“The fit of the mask is key, even with a cloth mask,” says Dr. Balkus. That means “ensuring that it’s fitting snugly on the bridge of your nose and under the chin. Not having big gaps is important.”

Surgical and N95 or KN95 masks are good but aim to have at least two layers of fabric cotton or cotton blend, says Dr. Balkius.

“It should be breathable without gaps around the nose and chin,” she says. “What’s comfortable for you is the biggest thing.” You may have to wear them for more than a few minutes.

While surgical masks are disposable, cloth masks are washable, says Dr. Balkus. Ideally, you would wear a new surgical mask in every new mask setting and wash cloth masks after each use. The reality may not be that simple.

“Trying to find that practice balance is the key thing and making sure you’re wearing it,” says Dr. Balkus.

Eat a few Brazil nuts each day

These nuts are rich in selenium, a protective mineral. In a five-year study, men who took 200 mcg of selenium daily had 63 percent fewer prostate tumors. Brazil nuts are the best food source: just one nut can contain 75 mcg. Learn more about what brazil nut nutrition has to offer.

To learn more about the role of selenium in prostate cancer risk reduction, take a look at this 2019 study by Mark A Moyad, MD, MPH.

Munch pumpkin seeds

These are a source of zinc, a mineral that scientists agree plays a significant role in boosting prostate health, protecting against enlargement and cancerous changes. Have a handful of unroasted seeds a day. Other foods that contain a plentiful supply of zinc include shellfish, meat, milk and dairy products, wheatgerm, and wholegrain cereals. Zinc supplements, however, have been linked to an increased risk of prostate cancer. Besides fighting cancer, zinc may also boost your sex-drive and give you more energy in the bedroom.

Enjoy more mackerel

There are lots of good reasons to eat oily fish (a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids that could add years to your life), such as mackerel or salmon, or take supplements of fish oil, and here’s another. In a study, a low-fat diet with fish oil supplements eaten for four to six weeks before prostate removal was shown to slow the growth of prostate cancer. Those following the diet had fewer rapidly dividing cells in their prostate cancer tissue compared to those who were eating traditional, high-fat Western foods. Linseed oil is another excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids; add a tablespoon of the oil to your food every day for prostate health. If you hate seafood, try these foods packed with just as many omega-3 fatty acids as fish!

Try croton oil

Researchers in a lab study found that the oil from the croton planta shrub native to Southeast Asiakilled off prostate cancer cells and shrank prostate tumors. Ask your doctor if this natural remedy could work for you. Stop believing these myths about prostate cancer right now.

Eat more tomatoes

Men who had ten or more portions of tomatoes a week cut their risk of prostate cancer by more than 45 percent in one recent U.S. study. Lycopene, which gives tomatoes their red color, interferes with the ability of cancer cells to multiply, spread and invade body tissues. Tinned and cooked tomatoes and tomato sauces seem to have the most potent anticancer effect. Check out this list of other foods that are way healthier than you could imagine.

Watch your fat intake

Numerous studies link a high-fat diet and obesity with an increased risk of cancers of the colon, prostate, uterus and breast, and melanoma. Limit saturated fats to less than 10 percent of your total calories each day. Try swapping out the bad fats for healthy fats like monounsaturated fats.

Don’t overdose on vitamin supplements

Vitamins are good for your immune system, but not if you take too many of them. Make sure to get as many vitamins as possible from fresh food (red peppers, garlic, and quinoa are just a few items on the list of superfoods every man needs in his diet), and choose and use supplements sensibly. Take special care with vitamins E and A, which are stored in the body if taken in excess, rather than simply being excreted in the urine. In doses above 250 mg a day, vitamin E can impair, rather than enhance, the day-to-day renewal of body cells, increasing the risk of prostate and other cancers. You need vitamin A to help build immune cells, but supplement doses above 1,000 mcg a day put you at risk of serious liver disease. More than 200 mg a day of vitamin B6 can permanently damage nerves. Doctors say you need to stop wasting your money on these vitamins.

Got heart problems? Ask your doctor about a daily aspirin

If your doctor thinks aspirin is a good way lower your heart attack risk, know that this powerful medicine also has a potential cancer-fighting benefit. Daily aspirin dose may help to prevent the growth of tumors in the prostate, breast, and esophagus. It may also provide some protection against the spread of some types of lung cancer. And a new study shows that these three foods are also surprisingly powerful weapons in fighting prostate cancer — apples, grapes, and curry. Here are the signs of prostate cancer you should never ignore.

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