January 26, 2021

Testing and masking

Understanding the limitations of testing has been tough for people, partly because the media reports are confusing. The most important thing to know is that a negative test does not necessarily mean you are not been infected. One reason is that the tests still vary in accuracy, another is that the test was done too soon to pick up an infection, another is that you had a negative test and then got infected after it was done, for instance on the airplane after you pre-flight test was done. Another reason is you were infected but now the virus is going away and no longer detectable. That can happen if the window between tests is too long. And then there is the long wait for results which will be obsolete if it takes longer than 1-2 days to receive them. Just be aware of these reasons to not have a false sense of security.

Another new concern about testing is whether they can be falsely negative if someone has one of the new fast spreading strains of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. It seems that there is always something new to worry about COVID, doesn’t it?

We are learning more about immunity and past infections but the best test is not clear yet. Being able to monitor for immunity would be a useful tool. Being able to determine if someone’s immunity wanes to know if a booster vaccine is needed would be a milestone.

Masks are still needed, now more than ever, because of the new strains. Immunizations will help, but it will take time to get enough vaccinated to slow the spread. Judging from the IHME models, infections and deaths should start to flatten over the next few months, after this wave is done. But not until we pass a half a million deaths in mid February. Right now overall infections are decreasing but hospitalizations and deaths lag by 2-4 weeks.

I have enjoyed all of the creative masks that people have designed and made, many sewn with love. I love the fit of the ones I have. I find that they fit more snugly and don’t have gaps like the medical masks I wear. However, my opinion is shifting about when to use them. Those are great for day to day, walking, visiting outdoors, low risk situations. Now, due to the new more-infectious strains, I feel that using the KN95 masks when in riskier situations is a very good idea. These are masks that are almost as good as medical grade, except for the fit testing. They filter 95% of particles, but can still have leakage around the edges, but less than other masks. These KN95 masks are becoming easier to find and, indeed, there is a call to increase manufacturing for everyone to access them. It makes sense to me, in light of the new more infectious variants now lurking. Just make sure you get ones that have been approved and tested by the FDA. Consider buying a box together with some friends. But if you can’t get access to the KN95 or KN94 masks, double mask when you go to risky places. which increases your protection.

The vaccine rollout has had a sloppy start but things are looking up. Our governor announced a 16% increase in vaccines to be shipped next week. Soon we will be able to get the schools to re-open safely. Which comes none to soon. There is a big increase in myopia in younger kids since the shutdown. Near sightedness happens when we spend too much time reading, working on something small, or computer time and classes, as well as not being outdoors and looking at distances. The shutdown does have a cost for the younger ones, getting them back to school in person will help.

Wash your hands, cover your nose, oh so important, and keep safe six.

And finally, my caveat is that this is my experience and my opinions, which are subject to change as more information is available, and not related to the organization I work for. Thanks for reading.

https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/health/three-reasons-why-testing-negative-is-not-a-guarantee-that-youre-safe/

https://dgnews.docguide.com/fda-genetic-variants-may-lead-false-negatives-results-sars-cov-2-molecular-tests

https://www.jwatch.org/na53037/2021/01/12/what-optimal-way-measure-immunity-sars-cov-2

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/01/26/n95-masks-safest-next-best-options/

https://covid19.healthdata.org/united-states-of-america?view=total-deaths&tab=trend

https://www.statnews.com/2021/01/07/national-hi-fi-mask-initiative-needed-with-vaccine-rollouts/

https://www.cell.com/med/fulltext/S2666-6340(20)30072-6 masks

https://www.dentalproductsreport.com/view/fda-bans-use-kn95-masks-weeks-after-failed-testing

https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/health/inslee-biden-administration-to-soon-increase-covid-19-vaccines-for-washington-state/

https://www.jwatch.org/fw117417/2021/01/14/covid-19-home-quarantine-linked-increase-myopia-among