Each week, we answer "frequently asked questions" about life during the coronavirus crisis. If you have a question you'd like us to consider for a future post, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line: "Weekly Coronavirus Questions."
With concerns rising about more transmissible variants, I've been reading a lot about double masking. But are there other ways to improve mask fit? What about mask braces and mask tape? And do I need to shave my beard?!
Two masks are better than one. That's what Dr. Anthony Fauci has said in the face of looming variants that are likely more transmissible.
The goal is to get a better fit when you're in potentially risky places – say, a crowded store. Anything you can to improve the seal, especially around the nose creases, is helpful at keeping pathogens out of your personal air space, says Richard Corsi, dean of the College of Engineering and Computer Science at Portland State University.
But there's no one-size-fits-all solutions. "There's not one way that's better than another," says Sonali Advani, an assistant professor of medicine at Duke University.
Try the various options and find one that's comfortable enough to sustain for the length of time you're out in a potentially risky environment.
Here's a closer look at some of the various options.
Mask tape: Similar to what's marketed as medical tape, "mask tape is kind of like a high-tech Band-Aid, says Corsi. It's sold at most pharmacies and online, of course. You can take one strip about 3 inches long and use it to tape your mask down to your skin where it meets your nose or use 3 smaller strips vertically to tighten the fit. "Anecdotally, my wife has used it, and the tape lasts and helps with the seal and fogging her glasses," Corsi says.
Mask braces: Virginia Tech researcher Linsey Marr has tweeted that these are very useful, although she warns that they look super dorky! You can buy these rubber fitters online, or you can make a DIY version with a template – first you have to purchase a sheet of rubber. Marr found a brace a bit tight to wear over a mask for a long time but also easy to tote with a backup mask you keep, say, in your car or bag. "It should greatly improve performance of my surgical mask, which was very leaky around the sides," she noted on Twitter.
There are also mask braces sold online, made of silicone and somewhat resembling the forboding mask worn by Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs. These braces would fit over a mask to seal it tighter to your face.
A close shave: In normal times, Corsi has a beard and mustache. But he shaved the beard when he realized it was interfering with his mask fit. "When you inhale, the air will go to the path of least resistance," he explains. "Facial hair creates a lot of air gaps to get right in. So it's really important to shave the beard if you want to be protected properly." Go for a clean shave anywhere the mask touches the face, he says.
If I contract COVID-19 after my first vaccine dose, what to do? Should I delay the second dose even if it meant going outside of the recommended time frame?
While there's controversy on the point, it's been shown that for two-dose vaccines, dose 1 does not offer the complete degree of protection as the combination.
In the case of the Pfizer vaccine, for instance, one study calculated efficacy after the first injection to be around 50%. That number shot up to over 92% after the second dose.
Meanwhile, it does take a few weeks for your body to start churning out antibodies after vaccination.
So you could in theory be exposed to the virus while you're in a clinic or pharmacy getting your dose. Or perhaps you get careless after dose one and drop some of your preventive measures — which, please, do not do this!!
"If you contract COVID-19 after your first dose [of the vaccine], you should wait until you have recovered from acute illness and have cleared isolation guidelines [before getting vaccinated again]," says Abraar Karan, a Harvard Medical School physician.
Because there's a risk of infecting others, you shouldn't break your isolation prematurely to complete your vaccine sequence.
Sonali Advani, an assistant professor medicine at Duke University worries specially about risks to medical staff and front-line workers — beyond the usual dangers of spreading infection you'd carry by going anywhere at all with a case of COVID-19.
Plus, since you already have the infection ... there's really not such a huge rush to get the second installment of the vax.
One fortunate note: For the very few of us unlucky enough to find ourselves infected between vaccine doses, Advani points to new Centers for Disease Control and prevention guidelines: According to CDC, you can delay your second dose up to 42 days without sacrificing effectiveness.
Advani suspects that should be more than enough time for most to recover from a case of COVID-19, finish up needed isolation periods and get their second dosage within the vaccine window.
And to ensure that this doesn't happen to you, Advani emphasizes following all key COVID-19 preventive guidelines carefully after getting your first dose — distancing, wearing masks and washing hands often and well.
Does it matter if I get the second dose of my COVID-19 vaccine in a different arm than the first?
Our experts agree: No.
It really doesn't matter which arm you get your vaccine in, nor does it matter if you get each dose of the two-part Covid-19 vaccine in separate arms, they say. After all, it's still going into the same body.
Sheila Mulrooney Eldred is a freelance health journalist in Minneapolis. She's written about COVID-19 for many publications including Medscape, Kaiser Health News, Science News for Students and The Washington Post. More at sheilaeldred.pressfolios.com. On Twitter: @milepostmedia
Pranav Baskar is a freelance journalist who regularly answers coronavirus FAQs for NPR.