President Joe Biden's very first executive action was to ask Americans to wear masks for the first 100 days of his administration. The executive order also requires mask use on all federal property. But keep in mind, not all masks are created equal.
The N95 is the gold standard in personal protective equipment because it blocks 95% of large and small particles utilizing a unique electrostatic filter that traps neutral particles such as bacteria and viruses before they pass through the mask, protecting the wearer and those around them. Think of it how socks might get stuck to a blanket in the dryer.
Experts including Dr. Abraar Karan, a physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, have told me that if we all wore N95 masks for four weeks, we could put an end to the pandemic.
But N95s can be hard to get ahold of – and should go to doctors and nurses first. If you aren't able to use an N95, Dr. Anthony Fauci says, consider double masking. "If you have a physical covering with one layer, you put another layer on, it just makes common sense that it likely would be more effective," Fauci told NBC Monday.
Vaccines vs. the variants
The good news: In 48 states, the averages of new Covid-19 cases have dropped significantly over the past week. And every state improved its rate of vaccinations. But now it's a race between vaccines and variants.
All viruses mutate over time, but some variants of the novel coronavirus are particularly worrisome because they have proven to be more transmissible.
One that was first identified in the UK, known as B.1.1.7, has already been detected in more than 24 US states, and early data shows that it may also be more deadly, at least in some populations.
Another variant, B.1.351 – first identified in South Africa – has scientists worried because its mutations might make our vaccines less effective. Both Pfizer and Moderna are confident that their vaccines will work against these variants, but companies are developing booster shots just in case.
On Monday, health officials in Minnesota said another variant – called P.1 – had been identified in the US for the first time. This case was found in a resident who traveled back from Brazil – the only place the variant had previously been detected.
More of these variants are certain to pop up. "The more you let the virus spread, the more it mutates, the more variants you'll have," explained Dr. Celine Gounder, a member of the Biden Administration's coronavirus task force. So remember: Get your shot, use your mask, and stay distanced.
Why you might delay or switch vaccines
Last week, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance to say second doses of Covid-19 vaccines may be scheduled up to six weeks after initial doses, if necessary.
According to the CDC guidance, the second doses should be administered as close as possible to the recommended interval – three weeks after the first dose for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, and four weeks after the first dose for the Moderna vaccine.
On "Fox News Sunday," CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky emphasized that it's not a change in recommendations. "We know that not everyone is going to receive that second dose at 21 days, 28 days, and some people likely will have forgotten which dose they got, which vaccine they got," she said. "They will come to us and they will say, 'What do we do now?' And that is the purpose of that guidance."
The CDC also updated guidance on using two different vaccines. While the US Food and Drug Administration authorized Covid-19 vaccines are "not interchangeable," it may be acceptable to get one dose of each in order to complete the two-dose regimen.
CDC says the safety and efficacy of switching vaccines hasn't been evaluated yet. The agency said "every effort should be made" to keep track of which vaccine people received to ensure they get the same one for their second dose several weeks later.
Covid-19 treatments: plentiful but sitting on shelves
There are very few drugs that prevent people with early Covid-19 from progressing to severe disease, but monoclonal antibodies may be among them.
Recent results from Eli Lilly and Company found that nursing home residents who received the company's antibody treatment had up to an 80% lower risk of contracting symptomatic Covid-19 versus residents in the same facility who received a placebo. And on Tuesday, Regeneron released interim results from an ongoing trial that found its treatment prevented disease among people at high risk for infection. The study looked at 400 people exposed to the coronavirus in their households. The half of that group that received the drug only developed asymptomatic Covid-19, with infections lasting no more than one week. Forty percent of the placebo group had infections that lasted three to four weeks, and 62% of them had high viral loads.
But health officials say too few patients are getting them – that they or their doctors don't know about them. Another challenge is that they are more complicated than just taking a pill. The two FDA-authorized antibody treatments for Covid-19 need to be administered by IV, and require both the space and the staff to administer them.
According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, nearly 800,000 courses of the treatment have been allocated, but just a little over half of those courses have actually been used.
"We need you to ask your provider about monoclonal antibodies as a way of keeping you out of the hospital," said outgoing Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams. "I want to remind everyone that we're not helpless in our crusade against the virus."