April 27, 2022

To Mask or Not to Mask, That is the Question?

 As a biomedical scientist, who also blogs, I get many questions from people around me concerning getting vaccinated for COVID19 and now more often about masks. Which mask? Do I need to mask? Where do I need to mask? Do they work? Should I just let myself get COVID19 to gain natural immunity? Is that better than vaccinated immunity? 

As far as immunity goes, I have two doses of Pfizer and two doses of Moderna now. Yes, I have the second booster just a few weeks ago, and yes I wear a mask and an N95 one at that when I am in crowded indoor spaces. I will be wearing an N95 mask in airports and on aircraft and in convention centers. 

Most importantly, I made the decision to wear an N95 mask because of my own skill and knowledge set as a career scientist and inventor with over 25 years of lab time under my belt. I understand DNA and RNA, how to put RNA into cells (like the RNA vaccines do), and how RNA is used as a template to make protein and all that stuff. That is what I do for a living. I have even designed a genetic test panel that we use to DNA-sequence kids with very rare inherited retinal conditions to determine the changes in their DNA that cause their medical condition.

Let me be clear that I fully understand that currently there are no laws that force me to wear a mask at all here in Michigan, Oakland County (my work), and Macomb County (my residence). I choose to wear an N95, and so far I am one of the 45% or so of people in the United States who have not been infected with COVID19. This last point is the reason I wear an N95. 

Most of us know many people who have both survived or died from COVID19. I also know many vaccinated persons who just had the "COVID19 cold", and they certainly fell into the "survived" category because they were vaccinated. However, I also know more persons around me who "just had a bad cold", but about a month later strange problems and long-covid symptoms have cropped up in their lives. Things like headaches, insomnia, foggy brain, constant exhaustion, and transient spells of extremely high blood pressure that leave them unable to walk without assistance for an hour. All of this explains two of my personal decisions for my own health:

1) I chose to get vaccinated to get immunity. 

While COVID19 infection and even repeated infections will spark your immune system into action, they are infections and real COVID19 virus still forms in your body and kills and disrupts several cell types of many different organs in the body including lungs, intestinal tract, sinus neurons (smell), and even our brains. I get a better immunity from the vaccines and avoid the dangers of the virus. Its a no brainer for me. I am over 50 and qualified for the 2nd booster, which I have now.

2) I chose to wear an N95 because I do not want a "COVID Cold".

An actual COVID19 infection, even if we have some immunity already, brings to me some risk of developing a new long-term medical condition. As a male who has entered his 60s during this pandemic and who makes a living using his brain to investigate human biology, disease, and design potential new therapeutics, I really need an "unfoggy brain". There are computer scientists, engineers, and medical scientists who have had to take leave from their careers because of neurological symptoms left to them by COVID19. I do not wish to risk being in that situation, even if the risk is tiny. Being told you have a very tiny risk becomes moot if you are one of those who end up in the very tiny "unlucky" group with neurological problems.

So, when will I stop wearing my N95 mask in some higher-risk situations? 

When the high risk goes away. I will base that on my risk of getting exposed to the latest strain of COVID19 going around. Currently, that is still a very significant risk. It is currently a higher risk than we have of getting the flu in most years. Once all the unvaccinated people around my part of Michigan eventually get COVID19 and some immunity, the extent of active COVID19 in the community will get low enough that I will consider taking off the N95. 

With warmer weather, I am going to favor eating outside at restaurants, and attending outdoor events and festivals. I will still pop my N95 on when I go into Starbucks to pick up my coffee, and I will watch the data available for Michigan from testing. Unfortunately, the extent of active COVID19 is harder to judge now as many states have stopped a lot of their testing efforts. However, there is good data from watching current hospital ER and admission data. 

I am simply going to err on side of caution so I avoid COVID19 itself if possible. That is good for my health and it also reduces the risk of a family member getting an infection transmitted through me. Just because a very conservative judge decided to block a Federal CDC mandate to require masking on airplanes does not change the science of the situation. A good mask, N95 is best, serves to stop the spread of respiratory diseases like COVID19 and many more that have plagued humans over time. COVID19 will mindlessly, robotically, continue to spread in the very automated ways that all viruses spread and if you do not have an N95 in a crowded venue then you choose a higher risk of infection. So be it. COVID19 cares not about anyone's politics. In general, illnesses and diseases do what they do regardless. 

So it's my choice for my health, based on how my science brain thinks, to wear an N95 mask. If you choose to be riskier then I wish you good luck. I really hope for the best for everyone, but you will be rolling a pair of dice that are different than my pair of dice. Your dice will have more than one side with one dot and your chances of rolling "snake eyes" will simply be greater than mine. 

Good Luck to us all. 

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