On his first day in office, President Joe Biden took a range of executive actions, one of the most publicized being a national mask mandate on federal property. Just after he was inaugurated as the 46th president in a midday ceremony, this action in particular was intended to signal a more aggressive approach to the coronavirus pandemic. “I thought there’s no time to wait. Get to work immediately,” he told reporters, sitting at the Resolute Desk and wearing a mask.

The CDC then took Biden’s mandate one step further and issued a sweeping order requiring the use of face masks on nearly all forms of public transportation in the U.S., requiring all persons to wear them, covering both the mouth and nose when awaiting, boarding, disembarking, and for the duration of travel on all public transportation including airplanes, ships, ferries, trains, subways, buses, taxis, ride-shares for those traveling into, within, or out of the U.S. Further, passengers must wear a mask except for brief periods to eat, drink or take medication. Finally, masks may be either manufactured or homemade but there is news on that front, as well.

The CDC reports that while wearing any mask reduces the risk of COVID-19 infection, wearing a more tightly fitted surgical one, or layering a cloth mask on top of a surgical one can vastly increase protections to the wearer and others. New research shows that transmission of the virus can be reduced by up to 96.5% if both an infected individual and an uninfected individual wear tightly fitted surgical masks or a cloth and surgical mask combination.

Of course, there is great excitement amidst the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, and as of this writing, about 1 in 10 Americans have received at least their first shot and while this is indeed great news, the CDC is not backing off of their mask recommendations, even for those who have received both doses of the vaccine.

So, while we may be tired of wearing masks, those of us anxious to start traveling again should plan on wearing them for some time to come. “Just because vaccines are here doesn’t mean Americans should let down their guard,” Dr. Richard Besser, former acting CDC director, said, adding that the more the virus has the opportunity to spread, the greater the risk that it will mutate and more variants will appear, as have the variants first identified in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil.

“It is absolutely essential that we continue to do steps beyond vaccination to keep this under control,” Besser concluded.

When it comes to masks, N95 ones are the gold standard. Surgical masks have three layers and generally offer more protection than cloth masks that should have at least two layers. Remember, the more layers, the better.

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