El nivel actual de alerta de COVID-19 en NYC es elevado, y el Departamento de Salud recomienda que todos los neoyorquinos, incluidos los previamente infectados, “lleven una mascarilla en cualquier lugar público interior.”

Prior to May 2021, less than 2% of new COVID-19 cases in New York City were reinfections, according to New York State Department of Health data. A year later, in May 2022, over 12% of new cases are reinfections. COVID-19 reinfections are defined as a person testing positive again for COVID-19 90 days or more after they first test positive. According to the New York Health Data site, “The number of people who have been infected with COVID for a second time has increased dramatically.” Two crucial factors contributing to the latest increase in both COVID-19 infections and reinfections are the rise of the COVID-19 Omicron variant, and the relaxing of COVID-19 mandates such as mask wearing. 

There is an increasing body of evidence that the Omicron variant has the ability to reinfect individuals who have previously had COVID-19 in ways that previous variants have been unable to do. According to a paper published in late 2021 the authors found “evidence of a substantial and ongoing increase in the risk of reinfection that is temporally consistent with the timing of the emergence of the Omicron variant…at least partially driven by an increased ability to infect previously infected individuals. In contrast, we find no evidence that reinfection risk increased as a result of the emergence of Beta or Delta variants.” 

The World Health Organization has stated that the Omicron variant “can evade previous immunity in people—so it can still infect those who have had COVID-19 in the past, those who are unvaccinated, and those who were vaccinated many months ago. Individuals who have recovered from COVID-19 are 3 to 5 times more likely to be reinfected with Omicron compared to Delta.” With Omicron and its subvariants leading to increased infections and reinfections, how can individuals protect themselves?  In an interview for The Capitol Press Room WCNY Radio, CUNY Graduate School of Public Health & Health Policy Distinguished Professor of Epidemiology Dr. Denis Nash said, “I think it remains important to take these other precautions that we know can limit community spread and we know can protect people…if everyone were to be vaccinated and boosted tomorrow it wouldn’t impact what’s going on with community transmission for quite some time so I believe that there needs to be a reliance on many of the other strategies that we know are useful and effective at controlling community spread and I would put masks in public places right squarely in that group.” 

Regarding continued COVID-19 disparities, Dr. Nash spoke about the Chasing COVID study he is a researcher on and stated, “You would have expected that the disparities and infection rates…would have started out to be large but go down with time, but in our cohort study, we saw pretty quickly that…the racial and ethnic disparities persisted, the higher rates of COVID in essential workers remained high.” These challenges can also be seen as it relates to mask use. 

Nash co-authored the article “Household factors and the risk of severe COVID-like illness early in the U.S. pandemic,” which states that “mask use is an effective strategy to both reduce the risk of onward spread from an infected person to susceptibles, and also reduces the risk of infection to the mask wearer. However, infections still can occur when masks are being used by infected and susceptible persons, but these infections may be more likely to result in asymptomatic or milder SARS-CoV-2 infection, because of a lower infectious dose.”

Since masks are a crucial aspect of continuing to protect against community transmission and reinfection, it is important to know that all masks are not created equally. 

Masks keep us safe, according to Jennifer Veltman, MD, chief of infectious diseases at Loma Linda University Health. The university’s online news site article “​​Mask myths, double-masking and the truth behind effectiveness” notes that a “good rule of thumb: if you can easily blow out a candle through your mask, it may be too porous and a good idea to find a better quality product.” 

The Mayo Clinic points out that “if you are in an area with a high number of new COVID-19 cases, the CDC recommends wearing a mask indoors in public and outdoors in crowded areas or when you are in close contact with unvaccinated people. If you are fully vaccinated and have a condition or are taking medications that weaken your immune system, you may need to keep wearing a mask. You also will still be required to wear a mask on planes, buses, trains and other public transportation traveling to, within, or out of the U.S., as well as in places such as airports and train stations.”Currently the NYC Department of Health has set the COVID-19 alert level to HIGH and “now advises all New Yorkers to wear a mask in any public indoor setting. People who are older than 65 or otherwise at a high risk of severe illness from COVID-19 should also wear a mask in crowded outdoor settings and avoid gatherings when possible.”

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