Post #1117: William and Mary, another good day, the math of herd immunity.

Today’s test results were 1-for-1772.  Three days of census testing are highlighted in yellow below.  In short, they’ve tested three-quarters of campus enrollment and found one COVID-19 case.

Again, obviously good news.

This is a follow-up to my last post, and in this I try to explain why you might not want to, or be able to, relax the William and Mary COVID-19 hygiene rules just yet.  Despite this good news. Continue reading Post #1117: William and Mary, another good day, the math of herd immunity.

Post #1030: Magid N95 respirator, a flat-fold mask with excellent face seal

This is the followup to Post #1023, my latest N95 mask purchase.

After looking over what was routinely available, my most recent purchase of N95 masks was 10 of these foldable Magid N95s, from Amazon.  The reasoning was pretty much the same as for my last purchase.  These are certified for industrial use, they are not certified for medical use, and they are an odd, niche style.  It doesn’t seem like it would be worth anyone’s while to counterfeit them. Continue reading Post #1030: Magid N95 respirator, a flat-fold mask with excellent face seal

Post #1004: On N95 masks and razor blades

Masks for sale to the public, 2/11/2021 NY Times Article

Today’s NY Times has an article on small U.S. N95 mask manufacturing startups that are now failing.  The reporting is muddled, at best.  The good part is that they list several small U.S. manufacturers, many of which appear ready and able to sell NIOSH-certified N95s directly to consumers. Continue reading Post #1004: On N95 masks and razor blades

Post #987: All the masks I’ve ever loved.

That would make for a short post.

There are a handful N95 masks that I’ve tolerated over the course of the pandemic.

I figured I’d take a page or two to review those, with an eye on which ones you might be able to buy now.  Not a comprehensive review, but one with a certain amount of put-up-or-shut-up realism, as I’ve actually worn these during the pandemic.

Bottom line:  Of the N95-type masks I’ve worn, one is currently available through an industrial supply house, via what amounts to a loophole.  (3M appears to be restricting that to industrial use only, but this industrial supplier will sell to individuals.)  And one is readily available on Amazon, but only in lots of 50 (for $58).  FWIW, that one folds flat and is easy to send via U.S. mail.  The rest are either unavailable or unacceptable.

Continue reading Post #987: All the masks I’ve ever loved.

Post 980: The French ban the worst masks.

European policy regarding masks seems to remain months ahead of the U.S. 

In prior posts, I documented that Germany has been distributing FFP2 (N95-equivalent) masks to high-risk populations since 12/15/2020.  The obvious analogy for U.S. heath care policy would be for the Biden administration to offer N95s to the elderly via Medicare. 

And both the country of Austria and the state of Bavaria are requiring high-filtration masks in public places. Continue reading Post 980: The French ban the worst masks.

Post #977: “Wear an N95” goes mainstream

September 9, 2020




January 24, 2021.



Above:  Fraction of the population wearing masks when in public.  Source:  Carnegie Mellon University Delphi Group COVIDCast.

By this time, most U.S. residents seem to have gotten the memo about wearing masks.  And my reading of recent news coverage is that America now seems ready to up its game on masks.  And it’s about time.

If you’ll go to Google News and search for N95, you’ll now see a spectrum of articles on a) why you should wear an N95, b) where to get an N95, c) alternatives to an N95.   As well as articles telling you to wear two masks, if you can’t get an N95.  Or articles giving reasonably useful generic ratings of which masks are better than others.  Or introducing you to other high-filtration standards, such as the Korean KF94.

Among which is an op-ed in today’s Washington Post with the straightforward title:

Everyone should be wearing N95 masks now

The Washington Post op-ed itself is pretty good.  The comments below it are just pitiful.  Either that was a target of the Russian trolls, or Americans have a long was to go in terms of getting educated about masks.  I don’t think I’ve seen misinformation and disinformation so heavily concentrated in one place before.

In this post, I’m going to offer three bits of perspective on how far we’ve come on this issue of wearing N95 masks, and then summarize any new practical advice that I can glean from today’s  crop of articles.

In short:  We’ve gone from “you don’t need one, and you shouldn’t wear one”, and no federal leadership on the issue, to “you need one to avoid aerosols, you should find one wherever you can”.  And still no clear Federal leadership on the issue.  And still a hard time figuring out how to buy a true N95 mask.

This is an area where the Biden administration could make a real difference in ordinary citizen’s lives.  Reading those Washington Post comments, I’d say that pretty much everybody recognizes how hard it is for a citizen to buy an N95 mask and have confidence that it is the real article.   It’s not like that’s some secret.

So, anything from cleaning up the marketplace so that we could know what we are buying, to some sort of government-run certification program so we could know what we are buying, to outright provision of certified N95 masks.  Starting, as I’ve suggested earlier, with provision of N95s to the elderly via the Medicare program.


Continue reading Post #977: “Wear an N95” goes mainstream

Post #976: Simple projection to March 1, and herd immunity.

How close will the U.S. be to herd immunity for COVID-19, on March 1 2021?  Even with the significant uncertainty involved, it’s worth making a few simple projections of that.  If nothing else this will put the current vaccination effort into perspective.

Even under a rosy scenario where vaccine injections double from the current 1M/day, and new infections continue to fall, only about half the population will be immune to COVID-19 as of the start of March 2021.  That’s well below the 70% that was thought to be required for herd immunity under the original strains of COVID, let alone the higher percentage that will be required for the more infectious U.K. strain.

Why does March 1, 2021 matter?  If the U.S. COVID third wave truly has crested, our next test will come as the more-contagious U.K. variant becomes the dominant U.S. COVID strain.  That’s predicted to happen sometime in March 2021.  Near as I can tell, that prediction is based solely on the amount of time it took for that strain to become dominant in the London area.  So that amounts to a crude guess.  But, at present, that’s the only guess we’ve got.

And if that’s correct, then vaccinations should proceed as quickly as possible.  But under any plausible scenario, vaccination alone won’t prevent a fourth U.S. wave of COVID-19.  We really need to be thinking about what else we’re going to do — such as making N95 masks available to citizens — in addition to vaccinations.

Details follow.

Continue reading Post #976: Simple projection to March 1, and herd immunity.

Post #959: If you’ve been vaccinated, do you still need to wear a mask?

If you’ve been vaccinated, do you still need to wear a mask?  I got this question from a reader a couple of days ago, and gave a partially-correct answer via email.  Here, I’m going to post what I believe to be the fully-correct answer.

Briefly:  Yes.  The CDC says you still need to wear a mask, social distance, and so on.  As long as the virus remains widely circulating in your community.  That’s not just the CDC being its usual fussy self.  There are sound reasons for that, involving non-trivial risk of catching and spreading disease.

In this post, I’ll try to explain that.  But, at the minimum, that “90% efficacy” you read about doesn’t include asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic infections.   They only counted severe, symptomatic cases.  The reduction in total coronavirus infections is unknown, and you can still spread the disease if you get a mild case of it.  In addition, that 90% reduction was based on all the participants maintaining their existing COVID hygiene.  If you get vaccinated, then start hanging around maskless in bars, you plausibly have greater odds of getting infected after the vaccine than you did before it.

But surely that has to prompt a few follow-on questions.  I’m not going to provide detail on these, in this post.  But I’ll give you my answers.

Well then, when can we  ditch the @#$@# masks?  I think the answer to that is “when the Governor says we can”.  We’ll get there when we get there.  I don’t think it goes any deeper that that.  It really shouldn’t be an individual-level decision, but that’s a topic for another post.

Continue reading Post #959: If you’ve been vaccinated, do you still need to wear a mask?

Post #953: I emailed my Senators and my Congressman

I’m not going to give directions in how to email your own Senator or Member of Congress.  All of them have email forms that you can use, and it’s easy enough to find them via Google.

Instead, this is the content of what I have sent to Senators Warner and Kaine,  and Congressman Connolly, regarding using Medicare to supply N95 masks (respirators) to the elderly.

As I understand it, the trick is to make it clear what you are asking for, up front.  You are trying to get the attention of the low-paid staff member who will actually be reading this.  Even so, unless they get a flood of letters asking for the same thing, this will likely do little more than add +1 to their count of messages about coronavirus.

That said, you have to try.  So here goes.

Dear Senator Warner:

In this email, I lay out the reasons why the Federal government should supply N95 masks (respirators) to the elderly via the Medicare program.  And I ask that you introduce legislation to make this happen.

You already know that N95 masks (respirators) provide substantially better protection against COVID-19 than cloth masks or surgical/procedure masks.  And that the elderly are at much higher risk of adverse outcomes.

But U.S. citizens cannot obtain N95 masks.  Those were pulled from all normal retail channels during the acute shortage of N95 masks in early 2020.  And now, even though there is no longer a shortage of N95 masks, those are still being withheld from retail sale.

The Federal government already has the infrastructure to get those effective N95 masks into the hands of the elderly.  Both Medicare Part B and Part D routinely deliver monthly supplies (DME and drugs) by mail to tens millions of Medicare beneficiaries.  It would be no strain on the system to deliver (say) three N95 masks per month to every enrollee who wanted them.

To do this, those masks would have to be a covered benefit under Medicare.  That would likely require legislation.  And doing so in a timely fashion would require allowing Medicare to skip parts of the Administrative Procedures Act. Which again would require legislation.

Hence this letter, because this can’t be done without Congressional action.

In the current climate, mask use is one of the things that strongly and visibly separates Democrats and Republicans.  It’s one thing to say “wear a mask”.  It’s a different thing entirely to go to the effort and expense to provide the most vulnerable segment of the U.S. population with an effective mask.  And that means an N95 respirator, via Medicare.

Finally, I note that Germany has already done this.  On 12/15/2020, they instituted a program to provide high-filtration respirators to every person 60 or older.  If the Germans have figured this out, surely we can too.