How travelers can be safer in a world where the mask is optional

Your suitcases are ready, are you ready to leave. You are there, outside your door. And you’re thinking, “If I catch COVID-19 on this trip, I could get seriously ill or die.”

You have a new N95 respirator for travel. And you also counted on most of your fellow passengers to cover their noses and mouths: the driver of your shared trip, the people at the airport and the passengers crammed into the plane.

But this week, a federal judge from Tampa, Florida, issued an order which canceled the mandate of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention mask for those on public transport. The United States Department of Justice is challenge the decision to the best of the CDC. Until the matter is resolved in court, most commercial airlines, airports, bus lines and public transit systems have stopped requiring travelers and employees to dress up.

This means that you probably will be surrounded by faces without masks.

The most transmissible strain of the coronavirus so far – Omicron’s BA.2 sub-variant – dominates the landscape now. It may be slightly less lethal than its predecessors. But older people, those with medical conditions, and the unvaccinated run a greater risk of serious illness or death if they become infected. Although full vaccination offers some protection against serious illness, that protection is weaker if you have not been boosted or if your last vaccine was more than four months ago.

What are you doing now? Dr. John Brooksthe CDC Medical Director for COVID-19 Response, has some practical advice:

Armed. Get vaccinated and, if you are fully vaccinated, get boosted. If you have had two or three doses of Moderna’s Pfizer’s Comirnaty or SpikeVax vaccine and it has been four months since the last dose, another dose is recommended. Give yourself a week or so for another jab to freshen up your immune system’s antibody supply.

If you have certain medical conditions, you cannot get vaccinated or take medications that weaken your immune system’s ability to fight infections, see if you can get a dose of Evushelda form of passive defense that can help protect you.

Patients on active cancer treatment, or people who have received a blood cancer stem cell transplant in the past two years, may not have had a strong response to the vaccine. They need the extra boost of immunity provided by the monoclonal antibodies in Evusheld. Patients taking long courses of high-dose steroids or a range of other medications to treat autoimmune diseases such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, or multiple sclerosis may be in the same boat. And anyone who has had a solid organ transplant needs more protection to compensate for the potent medications she takes to prevent rejection.

That was just over a million doses of the protective drug distributed, mainly to hospitals and health systems across the country. This won’t cover everyone who likely needs it. If you think it can help you, the rheumatologist, oncologist or transplant team who treated you are best placed to help you get it.

Put on your mask and make sure it’s good. In a crowd, the more people masquerade, the less viruses will be suspended in the air to be breathed in, so the more masquerading the better. But the correct and consistent use of a mask that molds close to the face can protect you from inhaling those persistent viral particles or limit the amount of intake. This, in turn, could make the difference between warding off infections and getting sick.

You’ve heard this before, but it’s worth repeating: a cloth mask won’t cut it, given the ease with which the Omicron variant spreads. If you love your fabric mask, put a disposable surgical mask on top of it – they are designed to attract and trap the virus on their surface. But your best bet is to wear an N95 respirator, which fits around the nose and has ear rings or head straps that hold the mask tightly to the face.

“Before you get on a plane, practice at home to make sure you can wear it comfortably, correctly and consistently,” Brooks said. “They are itchy and scratchy and the air is hot for some people. But millions of health workers have learned to wear them and you can too ”.

Pay attention to the transitions and take a direct flight if you can. The filtration systems of most commercial jets are fully active when they travel above 10,000 feet, Brooks said, and are extremely effective at cleaning the air in those conditions. But when jet engines are idling on the ground (and passengers get on or off), those systems aren’t doing that job. And the efficiency of those air filtration systems also suffers when the plane gets on or off.

So be sure to wear the mask during those transitions. And taking direct flights wherever possible limits the amount of time you sit in a crowded metal tube with a filtering system that will let more viruses pass through than it will at cruising altitude.

Book a window seat, board last and sit near the front so you can get off the plane quickly. The principle here is to spend as little time as possible on a plane that is still on the ground, Brooks explained. You also want to sit where any viruses emitted by passengers and staff in the corridors are less likely to reach you.

Seeking special airline favors is either expensive or difficult. But most will allow you to choose your seat for an additional fee, and if you can, look for one that gives you some distance from passers-by but also allows you to escape quickly.

Eat or drink with caution. You will likely be hungry and thirsty if you are on a long journey. But if other travelers are largely unmasked, your snack or a sip of soda is an opportunity for their virus to enter your respiratory tract.

Brooks notes that a straw can be inserted right under a mask, limiting the broken seal. He suggests eating at the airport rather than on the plane and munching your meal in an uninhabited corner of the gate area. Wash your hands before eating.

Know the level of transmission of the community where you are going and act accordingly. Going to a new case hotspot or passing through one on the way to your destination? Find out before you go so you know where masking and social distancing are still a good idea and where you can afford to relax. community site and click on the counties you will travel from, to and through.

Stock up on quick tests and be prepared to spring into action if you get a positive result. It makes sense to test yourself before you travel, to make sure you’re okay. But bring another test and do it four days after you’ve been in a high-exposure situation like an airport, or if you’ve developed symptoms of COVID-19.

Getting the earliest possible indication of infection is all the more important because antiviral drugs like Paxlovid Other molnupiravir are now available and can shorten the duration and / or reduce the severity of an infection. But they have to be taken as soon as symptoms beginand no more than five days after the onset of symptoms.

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