New research by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) shows that transmission of the COVID-19 virus can be reduced by up to 96.5% with careful use of masks. Recommendations are much more detailed than in the past and they consider the person trying to protect themselves as well as the person with COVID-19 infection potentially spreading the virus. This news, released by the new CDC director Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, provides welcome information for all with questions and concerns.
Value of tight-fitting or double-masking
The type and fit of the mask are clearly important. Additional good news is that the best N95 masks, so scarce in the past, are now available. This is great, and USA Today reports on how to make sure you are buying an authentic N95 mask.
Because very tight-fitting masks can be uncomfortable and because of the extra protection they offer, the value of an additional or double mask is important. This means that some looseness of the underlying mask can be improved upon by an additional mask on top. There are now many options for excellent double- or triple-layer cloth masks for the top mask. Since this will need to be a daily routine for many months, it is a bonus that one can also make a fashion statement with this top-layer mask!
Ongoing role of masks
Even as vaccinations are rolling out, mask use remains essential for many reasons.
First, not everyone may have the optimal antibody benefit, even after completing the required second vaccination dose. Thus, vigilance is required. In addition, a new report from a German nursing home provides a cautionary tale. Unfortunately, 14 residents at the nursing home tested positive for one of the new more infectious COVID-19 variants (B117), despite having completed two doses of the Pfizer vaccine. The better news is that all cases of these second infections with the variant virus were mild. Obviously, this means that even after vaccination everyone needs to be protected and certainly, for now, wear masks.
Impact of new virus variants
We cannot bury our heads in the sand. New, more infectious COVD-19 variants are spreading in the U.S. and globally. A really helpful variant tracker illustrates graphically the patterns of variants. The key points moving forward are:
With the new vaccine technology (such as the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA techniques), the vaccines can be adapted to the new variants in a matter of weeks. This means that later this year, booster shots for the new variants could be available.
Annual shots will be needed. The management for COVID-19 will be (probably at least for a few years) just as is done to vaccinate annually against the flu. This will mean an annual COVID-19 shot to cover the current active and evolving strains of COVID-19.
Looking to the future
As always, myeloma patients cannot look to the future through rose-colored glasses. The reality is that keeping myeloma in remission (and especially getting there in the first place) requires close attention and expert advice. The same is true for COVID-19. However, rest assured, these updates will continue to give the best advice possible.
Stay resilient and tune in to the latest edition of “Living Well with Myeloma” on February 25, for guidance on how to go about “Building Your Resilience During Challenging Times.”
Stay safe and be well.
Dr. Brian G.M. Durie serves as Chairman of the International Myeloma Foundation and serves on its Scientific Advisory Board. Additionally, he is Chairman of the IMF's International Myeloma Working Group, a consortium of nearly 200 myeloma experts from around the world. Dr. Durie also leads the IMF’s Black Swan Research Initiative®.