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Experts: Vaccinations are underway, but you should keep wearing your mask

Leonard Lee, founder of "Masking the Community," a grassroots effort that has distributed tens of thousands of masks to low-income residents, held up a sign on a Dorchester median strip last week. Experts say people should keep wearing masks and not let their guard down.
Leonard Lee, founder of "Masking the Community," a grassroots effort that has distributed tens of thousands of masks to low-income residents, held up a sign on a Dorchester median strip last week. Experts say people should keep wearing masks and not let their guard down.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

Don’t let the beginning of the coronavirus vaccination campaign keep you from wearing your mask and taking other precautions, experts say.

“The message I want to put out today is that it remains important to practice well-established evidence-based prevention measures,” said Dr. Joshua Barocas, an infectious disease specialist at Boston Medical Center and a professor at the Boston University School of Medicine.

We are in an “encouraging period of time with vaccines rolling out,” but a “continued multi-layered approach” is necessary, which would also include good-fitting masks, social distancing, handwashing, and better ventilation of indoor spaces, Barocas said in a briefing hosted by the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

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Regarding masks, Barocas said, “One question that’s come up a lot is: How do we know that mask-wearing is effective? And at this point we’ve got studies from airplanes, hospitals, and other congregate settings that provide ample evidence of the importance of masks. These are places where transmission is potentially highest, but we know that when masks, mask mandates, and broad mask-wearing have been implemented, it has decreased transmission, and this is likely even more important with emerging variants.”

Public health officials say masks can prevent people from getting infected and can also prevent people from spreading the virus to others.

Barocas likened the wearing of masks to knights wearing armor in a jousting contest or football players wearing helmets. “Masks may not be 100 percent effective at preventing the infection, just like armor wouldn’t be in a jousting duel, just like helmets aren’t totally effective at preventing injury among football players. But neither a medieval knight nor a football player would enter their competition without the proper protection. And neither should we be interacting with others without our first and second lines of prevention, which includes masks.”

Dr. Ricardo Franco, a scientist and professor at the University of Alabama, who also spoke at the briefing, said that while “it seems like we’re in a promising place, we need to remain committed to use all the tools we have. So back to the football analogy. I think this game is at halftime. We got off of a big deficit. ... We tied the game at halftime and we need to keep pushing and not give this virus a chance to play well in the second half.”

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Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reported at a briefing Wednesday by the White House COVID-19 response team, that coronavirus cases and hospitalizations nationwide “appear to be on a consistent downward trajectory” and the hope is that death numbers will also decline in coming weeks.

She warned, however, that the continued rise of coronavirus variants “threatens to reverse these trends,” and said, “Now is not the time to let our guard down. Keep taking steps to protect each other. Wear a mask. Maintain social distancing. Avoid travel, crowds, and poorly ventilated spaces. And please get vaccinated when it’s your turn.”

Walensky, formerly the chief of the infectious diseases division at Massachusetts General Hospital, also urged people to watch the upcoming Super Bowl safely, with only the people in their household.

Some people have recently recommended that people up their mask game further by wearing two masks. Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s lead medical adviser on the pandemic, said at the White House briefing it wasn’t the CDC’s official recommendation because there’s no research yet on how well it works. But he also noted that “some people are taking the common sense approach” and doing it. He also noted that he himself sometimes wears two masks.

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“More data will be forthcoming from the CDC with regard to the value of double-masking,” said Walensky.


Martin Finucane can be reached at martin.finucane@globe.com.