For a while now, we’ve been hearing that masks don’t really protect you, but protect others from getting the virus from you. However, there’s increasing evidence to indicate that they also protect you. The reason for this is that if you’re wearing a mask and are around an infected individual, you’re more likely to take in small amounts of the virus versus large amounts if you’re not wearing a mask. This can be the difference between having no symptoms or mild infection and serious illness or death.
This information has led to a growing number of communities to have mask mandates. In addition, many areas that have had them for a while are now saying that they’ll be enforcing them by ticketing individuals out in public that isn’t wearing them. Some people feel that this is excessive and shouldn’t be allowed. Others go so far as to say that there’s no scientific evidence demonstrating that wearing a mask is beneficial despite having proof to the contrary.
As the debate over masks continues, many areas are looking at the beginning of the school year and what that means. According to a report issued by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine, younger children and those with special needs should attend school in person wherever possible because they feel that online learning is ineffective for these groups. As far as middle and high school students, the guidance is less strict but provides a framework to assist school districts in deciding whether or not and how to open. In addition, the report states that schools provide more than just an education. For some children, it’s a source for health services, nutritious meals and social/emotional support. The American Academy of Pediatrics also backs this view.
Some of the precautions the committee endorsed are hand-washing, physical distancing and minimizing group activities, like lunch and recess. One of the most noted recommendations was that all teachers and staff should wear surgical masks and all students, including those in elementary school, should wear at least cloth face coverings during school hours. In addition, the committee says that regular checks should be done for symptoms, not just temperatures. Over the long term, the report indicates that schools should upgrade ventilation and air-filtration systems. There should also be plans in place for what will happen when students or teachers become infected.
However, other experts note that the report didn’t deal with when opening schools might become unsafe simply because too much virus may be circulating in the community. Committee members said this was deliberate because there isn’t a specific data point that is appropriate for all areas. Most school districts are trying to find a way forward that is both physically safe and best mentally/emotionally for their students.
Schools are working on getting prepared and so are hospitals for a second wave. Even though there is currently a spike in the number of cases and deaths, experts have said that there’ll most likely be a second wave come fall. This has led hospitals across the country to start stocking up on supplies, especially medications used to treat COVID-19, like dexamethasone (a steroid) and remdesivir (an antiviral). Besides these medicines, those being order include painkillers, sedatives and others used to treat patients on ventilators.
The concerning factor is that many of these drugs are in short supply and this is especially the case even in places where the virus is flaring up. The need for sedatives and analgesics increased almost fourfold when you compare what was ordered in April to January. This meant that only half of hospital orders were able to be filled instead of almost all. Doctors are needing to used higher doses of medicines to treat COVID-19 patients, which is further straining the system.
Hospitals are trying to prepare for the inevitable surge, but part of the issue is that they don’t know how big it’ll be, so they don’t know how much they should be ordering. Most facilities are trying to have at least one month’s supply available. On the other hand, if the second wave isn’t as big in an area as predicted, the hospitals could end up with a surplus of supplies. While this might not seem like a bad thing, medications do have expiration dates, so if they aren’t used by then, they have to be thrown away and this means a significant amount of money is lost.
One thing that everyone is anxiously waiting for is a vaccine. If one were available it would help to reduce the concern around wearing masks, schools reopening and the need for extra supplies. The good news is there have been some serious strides in the creation of one by Moderna, Inc. In a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the company was able to demonstrate in phase I of clinical trials that the 45 participants after being injected with the new vaccine had developed antibodies at levels that were comparable to patients who had COVID-19 and recovered.
Despite the promising news, experts point out that this is the first step in a lengthy process. Also, the results don’t necessarily mean that the individuals who’ve had the vaccine will have immunity against the virus. This is why phase II of clinical trials are currently underway and phase III will start later this month.