Why People Should Mask Indoors, Regardless of What a Judge Says

An image of masks

Most Americans who follow the news have at this point heard the ruling from a judge striking down federal mask mandates for airplanes, trains, and other forms of public transportation.

Some celebrate the ruling. Others look at it with dismay (me being one of them). I say that every single American should mask up on public transit, and other indoor areas, without giving a care about what some judge said.

Here’s the thing—judges are supposed to be legal experts, not public health experts. So to make an individual public health decision, such as whether one should wear a mask on a bus, based on a ruling from an apparent legal expert who’s not a public health expert, is simply ill-advised. It makes about as much sense as using a judge’s court decision to help you decide whether to take a vaccine, use a certain medicine, or use a certain treatment for an illness you are experiencing, because judges, in most cases, are probably not experts in the medical field.

And speaking of public health, the public health is such that it is simply not wise to drop the masks on public transit yet. It’s not wise because the virus, while not as deadly as it used to be, is claiming hundreds of lives a day,[1] and therefore remains far more lethal than a seasonal flu.[2] It’s not wise due to how it leaves the immunocompromised, who are at greater risk of serious illness or death than other populations, vulnerable to the virus. It’s also not wise because it leaves the little children who are currently unable to get vaccinated—those under the age of 5—vulnerable as well. And it’s not wise because we don’t know how many people end up with long COVID from the current strain of the virus.

Believe me, I don’t find masks comfortable at all, and I long for the day that I can make decisions on what to do with my daily life without having to keep the pandemic on my mind. But we are not there yet—not while we have a pandemic far deadlier than the deadliest flu seasons, and not while the lethal nature of it leaves some of the most vulnerable among us particularly vulnerable.

And yet, in spite of the imperative to protect these vulnerable populations, some people or individuals have a tendency to care more about their own freedom to be unmasked than the wellbeing of the vulnerable people around them. To those who feel that way, all I can say is that I hope and pray that you learn to care about someone other than yourself and your own desires; namely, that you learn to care about the most vulnerable among us in any situation, including and especially the one presented to us by the current pandemic.

And so, for the sake of caring for others, it is (still) time to mask up indoors.

[1] https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#datatracker-home

[2] The flu claims 12,000 to 52,000 lives each year. As of the time I am writing this piece, 346 Americans a day are dying of COVID on average, which means over 126,000 deaths if we were to multiply the average number of deaths by the number of days we have in a calendar year: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/burden/index.html

Coronavirus Update From New York City: January 20, 2022

I hope that all of my readers are healthy and safe, regardless of where you are.

On a personal note, everyone in my family seems to be continuing to avoid the virus. We’ve been very cautious when it comes to things like masking and large indoor gatherings, so I imagine all of that has helped. Hopefully this trend continues, because even among my fully vaccinated and boosted friends who’ve gotten the virus’s Omicron variant, it still sounds rather unpleasant (albeit, beating ending up in a hospital, or worse, in many of the cases of those who are not vaccinated).

However, there is one way in which it is difficult to do what needs to be done in order to prevent getting the variant myself: it has been a struggle to get one of the types of masks the medical experts recommend. Medical experts are saying that the N95 masks (the highest quality of mask from a protection standpoint) and the KN95 masks (not quite as good as the N95s, but still very good) are the best ones to have. However, it has been a challenge, to say the least, to find such masks. My family is doing the best that it can, by wearing two masks whenever we go indoors (with a blue surgical mask under a cloth mask). But it would still be nice to have a greater availability of the kinds of masks the medical experts recommend.

I also think we need to make sure to be forceful about the messaging around wearing a cloth mask by itself. I am still seeing a lot of people wearing a cloth mask by itself, even though all the medical experts I’ve been hearing lately are saying that cloth masks by themselves are little more than a face decoration when it comes to protection against the Omicron variant. I would like to think that we could prevent some spread of the virus if there were more forceful messaging when it came to wearing cloth masks by themselves, but of course, I am not a public health expert, so I don’t know how much said forceful messaging would have helped.

The promising news is that the number of people testing positive in New York, as well as in many other parts of the northeastern United States, is down. This makes sense to me, as this part of the United States also seemed to be the first part to get slammed by the Omicron variant. This creates some hope, I think, that there may be a light at the end of the tunnel, at least when it comes to this specific variant of the virus.

The number of people getting infected by this is still quite high, so I would urge against complacency, even in the parts of the United States or the world where cases continue to decline. I especially urge against this because there are parts of the region where hospital beds and ICU beds are filling up again, so we want to make sure to do what we can to keep hospital and ICU beds from getting overwhelmed, if they aren’t overwhelmed already. Furthermore, a lot of people seem to be getting sick in a short span of time, resulting in continuing shortages of everything from bus drivers to certain kinds of food. Now is not the time for complacency, indeed.

So, that is pretty much it from my corner of the world. As always, I am interested to hear how others are doing.

Coronavirus Update From New York City: December 16, 2021

It has been a month or so since I made my previous COVID update post. A lot has happened with the pandemic globally since then!

In late November, the Omicron variant of the virus was found in South Africa. Since then, it has been detected in many other countries, including mine: the United States. In fact, it has spread enough that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 13% of all cases in New York and New Jersey are from Omicron.[1] The Delta variant is still the dominant one, both locally and nationally, but Omicron is spreading quickly, especially in my part of the United States.

I still feel like there is so much to learn about Omicron, and perhaps that relative lack of knowledge, even now, is leading to some level of fear. The indications we have received from a major South African study is that this variant is more resistant to vaccines than previous variants yet seems to overall result in less serious infections.[2] However, there is still a lot to learn as we are in the early days of this variant. Furthermore, it must be pointed out that even with the increased vaccine resistance, two doses of the Pfizer vaccine may offer 70% protection against hospitalizations from the virus.[3]

The aforementioned statistic creates some hope that maybe, just maybe being fully vaccinated and boosted will provide greater protection yet against serious infections from the virus. But we will need to wait and see.

Of course, vaccination is not the only layer of protection. Things like masks and good indoor ventilation can act as further layers of protection against the virus as many of us attempt to achieve, as one priest I heard recently call it, a “fragile normal.” And it is very fragile, as many of us are trying to do the activities we did before the pandemic, such as visit family, without trying to endanger others around us by getting the virus. With Omicron, that normal may be as fragile as ever.

Part of that fragile normal includes your needing to wear a mask in New York State if you are in a place that is not your home and does not require full vaccination proof (like a grocery store).[4] All I will say there is that I’m grateful that I don’t live in one of the parts of New York State where counties are saying that they won’t enforce the mandate, and where many if not most people are anti-masking.

But that is not the only thing I’m grateful for this holiday season. I’m also grateful that the vaccination rate is higher where I am than in many other parts of the country. And I’m grateful that the friends I have and the groups I am a part of are, by-in-large, pro-vaccine. I know some are not so lucky.

Speaking of holidays, I will not be writing a regular Monday blog post next week, but I will do my yearly wrap-up blog post a week from today.

[1] https://www.cnbc.com/2021/12/15/cdc-estimates-13percent-of-all-cases-in-ny-and-nj-could-be-omicron-infections-director-walensky-says.html

[2] https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2021/12/14/south-africa-omicron-coronavirus/

[3] Ibid.

[4] https://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/coronavirus/ny-mask-requirement-for-indoor-public-places-with-no-vaccine-mandate-is-in-effect/3447022/

Coronavirus Update From New York City (With a Hurricane Ida Update): September 2, 2021

While these posts on Thursdays during the worst of the pandemic have focused on the Coronavirus, I feel that it is appropriate that I start off this post by giving an update on how I, as well as my city, are doing after the remnants of Hurricane Ida slammed the New York area.

This may be old news for anyone who likes my blog’s page on Facebook or follows it on Twitter, but thankfully, I am doing okay, and so is the rest of my immediate family. My family lives in a house that did not get any flooding, in spite of rainfall that was over 2 inches an hour. Many other places did get flooding, and severe flooding at that, so I know we were lucky. I was also lucky that I didn’t have to go anywhere, either in the torrential rains of last night or the residual flooding from Ida. I’m especially glad that I didn’t have to use any subways today, because even now, which is well over 12 hours after the storm ended, every single subway line in New York is experiencing delays, partial suspensions, or complete suspensions. Our subways aren’t built to handle that much rain in that little time, and neither is our city. Granted, we’re not used to getting so much rain in so little time, either.

I want to send my best wishes to all of those affected by Hurricane Ida, from those devastated by winds, rain, and storm surge on the Gulf Coast to all who’ve been affected by its heavy rains in the Tennessee Valley, Ohio Valley, mid-Atlantic, and New England, to name a few. I hope all my readers in all those parts of the country affected by Ida are remaining safe. And if anyone who reads this has lost a loved one to Ida, I send my condolences to you and your family.

As for Coronavirus where I live, it’s a bit of a mixed bag of news.

On one hand, the ICUs are not packed in my area like they are in some parts of the United States. To show some examples of how packed ICUs are getting in some parts of the country, as of yesterday, 100% of ICU beds are currently in use in the Orlando metro area,[1] 96% are in use in the Birmingham, Alabama metro area,[2] 96% are in use in the Dallas metro area,[3] and 90% are in use in the Atlanta metro area.[4] At the same time, only 55% of ICU beds are in use in the New York City metro area.[5] I could be wrong, but I think what’s going in my area’s favor, at least as far as ICU beds are concerned, is that the vaccination rates are significantly higher where I am than in some of these other parts of the country where ICU beds are packed. That, in combination with a decent level of mask compliance (at least where I am), definitely helps.

Yet, at the same time, it doesn’t seem like infections from the Delta variant are going down. If anything, there are parts of the city where the infection rates seem to be going up. And, with school years around the corner or beginning in my part of the United States, I am nervous about what the beginning of the school year might do to the transmission of the virus, especially since the Delta variant can affect kids. And, of course, kids under 12 can’t get vaccinated yet, so that fact means that kids may be at a high risk of not just getting the virus, but getting really sick from it. I certainly hope that school reopenings will go more smoothly in New York than they have in certain parts of the country. If they don’t go smoothly, we can start to see a situation where pediatric ICUs fill up. But, let’s hope that this doesn’t happen, and that we have a smooth start to the 2021-22 school year. The last 18 months have been trying ones for students at all levels of school, so hopefully we can have something go smoothly, for the sake of the kids, if nothing else.

If anyone wants to talk about how they are doing, how the virus is going in their areas, and/or how they managed with Hurricane Ida, please feel free to comment below.

Please note that I will not have a blog post next Monday, on Labor Day. However, I plan on having a Coronavirus update post next Thursday.

[1] https://covidactnow.org/us/metro/orlando-kissimmee-sanford_fl/?s=22441170

[2] https://covidactnow.org/us/metro/birmingham-hoover_al/?s=22441170

[3] https://covidactnow.org/us/metro/dallas-fort-worth-arlington_tx/?s=22441170

[4] https://covidactnow.org/us/metro/atlanta-sandy-springs-alpharetta_ga/?s=22441170

[5] https://covidactnow.org/us/metro/new-york-city-newark-jersey-city_ny-nj-pa/?s=22441170

Coronavirus Update From New York City: August 26, 2021

Wow, what a week it has been, both Coronavirus-wise and otherwise!

The biggest news coming out of my state (New York) is that we have a new governor. Andrew Cuomo, who at the beginning of this pandemic was hailed as a hero, left his governorship disgraced and under a cloud of scandal. I know my third ever Coronavirus update begged my readers to not treat Cuomo like a hero, but good gosh–not even I could have predicted things happening in the way that they did! In any event, with Cuomo having left, in comes Kathy Hochul, who served as Lieutenant Governor for just over 1 1/2 terms before ascending to the position of governor as a result of Cuomo’s resignation.

Just hours after coming into office, Hochul did something that Cuomo should’ve done: have a school mask mandate.[1] Mask mandates in schools have been controversial, seemingly because kids and their parents feel they should have the freedom themselves to choose whether to wear a mask or not. However, my take is that, to put it bluntly, people need to care about more than themselves. People need to care about others, and namely, care about preventing others from getting sick–something that masks can help with. Mask mandates are the right thing to do.

Of course, Hochul will have more to do on the Coronavirus than just have the school mask mandate. She will, in my personal opinion, need to recognize the basic reality that certain things that were possibly safe before the Delta variant are not safe anymore. Things like indoor dining, big crowds that aren’t socially distanced (even outdoors), and large indoor social gatherings do not seem safe right now, even for those of us who are vaccinated (since there’s a significant body of scientific evidence showing that even vaccinated people can get and spread the virus). My hopes aren’t high for this, as the only place that I hear has started reinstating some restrictions on such things is the State of Hawaii, though perhaps Hawaii will end up becoming a trendsetter if the Delta variant grows worse.

Speaking of big crowds outdoors that aren’t socially distanced, I should provide an update on what happened to the so-called “Homecoming Concert” that I talked about on my blog a couple of weeks ago. This concert was billed as a return back to normalcy, of sorts, for New York City, a concert where people can come and enjoy some major musicians. Such a concert may’ve seem reasonable a couple of months ago when the virus appeared to be subsiding, but with the spreading of Delta, we aren’t exactly heading back to normal and it didn’t seem like a wise time to have a massive outdoor gathering with tens of thousands of people like that. Well, the concert got ruined, not because of the Delta variant, but because some dangerous weather courtesy of Hurricane Henri (a storm that delivered heavy rain to New York City, though thankfully I didn’t experience any of the flooding that certain other parts of the northeast United States had). I wished the concert wasn’t even a thing in the first place, though, because then we could’ve avoided the non-socially distanced scrambles for safety as a result of the weather issues.

While I thought this concert was a mistake, I am hoping that this (as well as schools, which are supposed to return in the next few weeks) don’t end up being super spreader situations. We shall see…

[1] https://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/politics/2021/08/24/hochul-address