Massachusetts Mask Debacle: State Fails its Elementary and Secondary School Teachers

By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.

Today, I want to address a simple, low-tech topic. Masks.

Now, many people disdain masks. Period. And they have their reasons – the least convincing of which, to my mind, is freedumb.

Others nominally comply – but make it clear, via sporting the ever-popular ‘chin diaper’- what they really think of the masking idea.

Neither of these is my audience.

Instead, I’m aiming at those who wear masks, but don’t do so properly. Something I noticed when I flew round-trip from NYC to LAX in late December, on a trip I very much wanted to put off, but couldn’t. (In fact, I would have gladly signed up for a root canal and a colonoscopy on the same day if I could have deferred that trip.)

As I passed through Newark airport and LAX, I noticed most people were wearing inadequate masks, cloth or surgical, without a Badger Seal or the equivalent. Even top-quality masks often looked ill-fitting.  Lax masking may have been adequate to thwart earlier COVID-19 strains, but does little to arrest the delta variant, let alone omicron. It wasn’t only passengers who wore masks that aren’t up to the mark, but airline, airport, and TSA staff did the same as well.

Now, how is this still the case, two years into the pandemic? Why is the state of masking still so poor?

Rather than spilling lots of ink on those questions, I got to thinking how I would do things differently, if I were Mask Tsar for the feds or some state health authority. How about setting up mask stations at airports?  Or other well-trafficked public meeting places?

At such stations, health officials could distribute genuine, aka non-counterfeit, effective masks – either N95, KN95, or other models that might emerge – for free. At the same time, health officials could demonstrate how to fit and wear masks properly. Such measures might go some way to mitigating the pandemic. But that would require politicians and health officials to step out in strong support of effective masking – a game neither really got into, instead as we know, using the ability to go mask-free as a perk of agreeing to vaccinate – and we all know how well that approach turned out.

Alas, ensuring effective masking isn’t as sexy  – or profitable – as rolling out new vaccines or drugs.  Neither of which has proved to be much of a panacea. Just another reason that COVID-19 infections continue to burgeon.

Pity the Teachers

Another obvious place to distribute masks and educate people about proper usage and fit is schools. So it’s with anger and consternation that I highlight here a Boston Globe story this week discussing the shambles the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency has made of distributing free masks to teachers (see ‘Turned out to be a fiasco’: Mask controversy erodes Mass. educators’ faith in state). The aim was to issue each teacher with 30 masks – intended to be a six weeks’ supply.

Schools are a hotspot for COVID-19 spread.   Ensuring effective masking – along with improved ventilation – could go some way to alleviating this problem. Kids get sick and they bring the virus home, where it can infect their parents, grandparents, and other family members.

Teachers are on the front-line of this battle. Masking up not only protects them and limits covid spread, but it also allows at least some teachers to provide an example to their students to show how masking should be done.

Over to the Globe:

Massachusetts educators — already stressed by a record surge in COVID-19 cases — reacted with disappointment and frustration this week when they learned that masks distributed by the state are a less protective, non-medical version of the high-quality KN95 masks they’d been promised. The ones thousands of them received had lost FDA approval in 2020.

And as a chaotic week of school reentry ended Friday, state leaders still had not explained how the lower-quality masks made it into circulation, or how much they spent on them: calls and e-mails to the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, which provided the masks, were not returned this week, and spokespersons for the Executive Office of Health and Human Services and Governor Charlie Baker did not respond to reporters’ questions.

The mask distribution “turned out to be a fiasco,” said Tom Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents. “There was bad information given to the districts. What’s tough about this is we all rely on the data we’re given from the state. We’re not experts on masks or vaccines. … The masks certainly didn’t turn out to be what was expected.”

The state planned to distribute nearly 4.5 million masks to schools last month, according to a planning document provided to the Globe. It’s not clear how many of the masks distributed were the less protective version labeled “non-medical,” or how many districts received them.

Masking isn’t the only covid fiasco the commonwealth has perpetrated against its teachers. Per the Globe:

Educators’ trust, already frayed, was further tested by another distribution debacle: some 3,000 expired COVID-19 test kits also were sent to some schools by the state. State education leaders first denied they sent expired tests, but later said the manufacturer had extended the dates they could be used, although there was nothing on the packaging to let educators know.

The confusion came as schools were already reeling: Statewide, schools saw a staggering 39,000 cases among students and 12,000 among staff this week, quadruple the number reported before the holiday break.

Teachers deserve better. Hell, any Massachusetts resident deserve better. Bernie Sanders continue to call to distribute N95 masks to everyone in the United States. How’s that effort going?

But teachers are especially important to me, the daughter of two public school teachers. My Dad’s two brothers, one aunt, a sister, and a cousin are all – or have been – public school teachers.

And let me take a moment here to tell you how dedicated my father was to the students at the Sussex County Vocational-Technical School. I’m the eldest of five children and I was usually lucky enough to have my own bedroom – not always the case for my other sisters. Yet every once in a while when I was in high school, my father took me aside and said, “Pal, I need you to do something for me.” What was that? Bunk in with one of my sisters for a bit, so that one of Dad’s students, who had nowhere else to go, would stay with us, at our home, until some crisis in that student’s life was resolved.  I close my eyes and can see two of their faces – one was named Danny, the other Don. These visits sometimes extended for weeks.  I never resented Dad’s asking me to give up my bedroom, as I trusted that if he asked me to do so, it was necessary. My parents set an example of helping those in need. They never had to explain what they were doing, but instead showed us how to behave.

I thought of my Dad when I read The Globe dispatch. I’m not sure many contemporary teachers would go so far as invite their students to move in with them – particularly in the midst of the pandemic. To be sure, Dad’s level of dedication was unusual even during the 1970s.  But by merely showing up for work during these dangerous times – teachers are demonstrating courage and dedication. Especially as many schools are no doubt far from safe, lacking ventilation.

Massachusetts cannot even manage to execute a simple pledge to distribute high-quality masks to its teachers. The commonwealth has form in failing to protect its public employees. According to The Globe:

The struggles were not the first to befall the state in its efforts to protect public employees from COVID-19: In April 2020, at the start of the pandemic, officials were embarrassed by a similar snafu after sending an unknown number of minimally protective masks to public safety workers.

Those 2020 mask deliveries — made after New England Patriots owner Bob Kraft sent a team plane to retrieve the scarce supplies from China — initially were cheered as a triumph. But questions followed about the state’s protocols for acquiring and testing protective equipment.

Nearly two years into the ongoing public health crisis, the same questions dogged the state again this week.

It appears the masks distributed last month to schools also may have been purchased in 2020. The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency received two shipments of non-medical KN95 Protective masks from Fujian Pageone Garments Co., Ltd. — the Chinese manufacturer of the masks just sent to schools — by container ship on July 16 and July 29, 2020, according to import records.

No matter how sound the intention, execution os the pledge to distribute quality masks fell far short of what teachers deserve. Over to The Globe:

But it did not take long for questions to arise about the soft, white masks, sent in packages of five that bore the words “NON-MEDICAL” on the front.

Asked about the masks’ effectiveness during a press briefing at a Salem elementary school early Monday morning, Baker said the masks had been tested at MIT and found to filter out 85 percent of contaminants.

Soon the state was forced to backpedal, as the Globe reports:

On Wednesday, [the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE0] sent schools a message citing “an update from MEMA today that some of the masks in the distribution, masks marked ‘non-medical,’ has not been tested at MIT as previously thought.”

Nevertheless, the state wrote, “all the masks that were distributed … remain effective,” a claim sharply criticized by educators who did their own research and found the questionable KN95 masks, manufactured by Fujian Pageone, were tested by the CDC and found less than 50 percent effective, and were removed in June 2020 from an FDA list of authorized models.

The teachers of Massachusetts weren’t fooled. Per the Globe:

As outrage grew, the Massachusetts Teachers Association on Wednesday called for an agency other than DESE to take over management of COVID-19 protections in schools. “The governor is putting public relations over public health,” the MTA’s president, Merrie Najimy, said. “They either knowingly lied or they demonstrated gross incompetence.”

Someone please explain to my how these things continue to happen? Why can’t Massachusetts – a state that prides itself on its world class educational institutions -get it together to make sure its elementary and secondary school teachers have proper masks, now two years into the pandemic?

Please, how is this so?

Which heads need to roll?

Won’t anyone take responsibility?

Here’s where the situation now stands:

A statement issued Thursday by DESE also did not explain how the less protective, non-medical masks — found to offer between 25 and 46 percent filter efficiency, compared with the 95 percent gold standard — made it into schools. Instead, it stressed the safety of classrooms and the importance of in-person learning.

How can teachers be asked to come to work under these conditions?

When the state can’t even bother get each and every teacher an effective face mask?

Readers?

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58 comments

  1. GlassHammer

    “When the state can’t even bother get each and every teacher an effective Face mask?”

    The State can’t even give every Healthcare worker adequate PPE.

    Reply
  2. shinola

    “Someone please explain to my how these things continue to happen?”

    Well, the 1st two letters of the acronym “snafu” do stand for Situation Normal…

    Reply
  3. Samuel Conner

    > How can teachers be asked to come to work under these conditions?

    It sure looks to me like an outbreak of sociopathy among the higher-ups. I wonder if that is contagious.

    The oncology clinic I have been frequenting in recent weeks, helping a friend who is too debilitated to drive, uses surgical procedure masks (without additional aids such as ‘badger seal’). The patients and their support people are in procedure masks or cloth masks. It looks like a spreading event waiting to happen, and in an immuno-compromised population.

    It’s as if the people who are making the decisions on how much to spend on safety measures … simply don’t give a d@mn.

    In the department of ‘news that might be of use’,

    For readers whose faces are not ‘long’, 3M Aura series N95s may provide a good seal without a lot of fussing over the fit. They don’t look like much in their packaging, but unfold into a substantial ‘tent’ that fits nicely over lower jaw, upper jaw, cheeks and nose up to a point between the eyes. The mask/skin contact surface is quite wide around nearly the entire margin of the device and it really feels like a tight fit. I haven’t done a fit test, but I notice no sense of air flow around the margin and I can feel the front panel ‘pull’ toward my face when I inhale, which suggests to me that the air flow is substantially through the filter and not through leaks at the filter/skin contact area.

    I’ve been using 9205+ and 9210+; the sole difference between these appears to be that the 05 uses rubber bands while the 10 uses elastic cloth for the ‘around back of head’ straps. I think that the 05 straps lose their tightness more quickly than the 10s do, and as they can be reused (if not used in an oil mist environment), the modest extra cost of the better straps is worth it.

    I get deep indentations in my cheeks at the point where the straps attach onto the filter material. Perhaps these will become permanent, marking me in future as an “Aura fan” — a very mild alternative to long COVID.

    Reply
      1. Jen

        Home Depot, Lowes, Protectly.com – lots of places and will concur that if you have the right face type, they are awesome.

        Reply
      2. Samuel Conner

        I’ve seen 9205+ (with the blue rubber band head straps) at Home Depot. ProjectN95.org doesn’t seem to carry the Aura series.

        I too am a little uneasy about the possibility of fake product at the whip-cracking sadist shopper online marketplace, but there is a store there that claims to be 3M, selling in case quantities at less than $1 per piece. That price is very similar to the case quantity price that is quoted by online bulk distributors that sell only to institutions.

        Reply
        1. albrt

          Some paint stores also carry N95s. Stores that cater to real contractors often have masks in stock when the big box stores are out.

          Reply
    1. Judith

      I just got the 9205+ (Online from Staples) and while I like the mask (good fit and my glasses do not get foggy), I do not like the elastic strap, in part because my hair is long and gets tangled in the elastic and also I find it uncomfortable. I’m thinking I may try to replace the straps, which are attached with a staple.

      Reply
      1. Samuel Conner

        > replace the straps,

        I imagine that velcro hook and loop strips might do the job. Perhaps staple the velcro on; I worry that a liquid adhesive might emit vapors that interact with the surface charges in the filter material.

        But perhaps try to get used to them as is. The two straps, one under the ear and around the back of neck, and the other over the ear, really (in my experience) hold the thing on tightly.

        Under current conditions, an accidental failure of a DIY strap arrangement at the wrong time could be really dangerous.

        Reply
        1. Judith

          Yes, I am thinking that it will be easier to simply get used to these masks. It does seem we are being required to get used to more and more in this troubled world.

          Reply
        2. Dave in Austin

          I and my doctor friends simply cut the two straps at the midpoint then tie the two on one side together to go over an ear. Works like a charm, although I’m mostly using the lightweight blue masks for “not bad” places and the KN 94 I get at Korean grocery stores for “this place is a Petri dish” moments.

          Reply
        3. Dave in Austin

          The change in public trust and the comments on NC indicate we are heading toward a Chernobel moment, when the stories out of officialdom are so discounted that the public might vote for…

          I hope all those folks who over the past 50 years have helped change our Presidential candidate selection process away from layers of pols and those who have some knowledge about the individuals running to a money and PR driven popularity contest in the name of “democracy”.

          Republics are not democracies. And when they become one they leave the obvious problems of republics behind and replace them with the less obvious problems of democracies.

          Reply
    2. Joe Well

      3M Aura is the best fitting mask I’ve tried that isn’t a duckbill. Also comfortable on the nose because of the foam. Highly recommended if you refuse to go duckbill (which make it easier to talk and breathe because they are farther off the face).

      Reply
    3. Basil Pesto

      I’ve been using 9205+ and 9210+; the sole difference between these appears to be that the 05 uses rubber bands while the 10 uses elastic cloth for the ‘around back of head’ straps.

      Ah! Handy, thanks for that. I got some 9205s the other day but I am afflicted with what my family calls GHS (Giant Head Syndrome) so the elastic snaps after about a week. Will have to keep an eye out for the 9210s.

      For Australians, local manufacturer AMD makes some eminently wearable P2 masks – I have a model with earloops which I further secure with a FixTheMask mask brace (a badger seal would do the trick too).

      Reply
  4. grayslady

    Oh, I think Lori Lightfoot has the idiots in MA beat hands down. She took all the Federal Covid relief money Chicago received and used it ALL to pay into the Chicago Police pension fund. No money for school ventilation or even Corsi boxes and, to the best of my knowledge, no money for masks. Students were told that had to be tested prior to returning to school, with the tests submitted to Fed Ex(!) drop-off boxes prior to the first day of class. Probably many readers here saw pictures of the disgraceful tumble of Fed Ex envelopes littering the sidewalks around the drop-off boxes as, apparently, the incompetent mayor didn’t arrange for special pick-ups. Meanwhile, other than perhaps a charter school in the city, I don’t think there has been a new Chicago school built since the 1950s-1960s, so all would require ventilation upgrades.

    Lightfoot is fuming because the teacher’s union has voted to return to remote learning. Cases in Chicago and throughout Illinois are out of control. Pritzker, who once had graded levels of Covid precautions, including lockdown of bars and restaurants, has failed miserably other than to keep a statewide mask mandate. Schools in Illinois have become nothing more than hugely expensive daycare and a place for poor children to receive at least one meal a day. Education no longer has anything to do with school here.

    Reply
    1. chris

      Do you have a link to an article explaining that? I tried looking up permutations of keywords in what you said and didn’t see anything. Using the COVID funds that way would be incredibly awful if the mayor chose to do that. Especially since she’s currently looking at legal action against the teachers for their strike, right?

      Reply
  5. Jason Boxman

    Baker should resign. So should Biden. Not only does the emperor have no clothes, we’re beat with a stick over its obviousness as well.

    Reply
    1. LowellHighlander

      Jason Boxman,

      I was thinking the same thing: Baker should resign, and resign now. He could have acted like a man and proactively called a press conference to say that he’d been wrong, for whatever reason, about the masks’ having been tested at MIT and found to have been 85 percent effective. Instead, it seems as if he [purposely] hid behind the DESE.

      And as for Biden, I had no expectations of his efficacy on any matter – except to keep those records sealed at the University of Delaware so that no one can verify whether or not he treated that young ex-staffer, Tara Reade, as she claimed. Turns out that my expectations are pretty much spot on.

      Reply
  6. bob

    “Won’t anyone take responsibility?”

    They are awful at administration. I’m sure they are all very well qualified and educated. Avoiding any responsibility for anything is a qualification. Anyone who takes responsibility is therefore unqualified.

    Reply
  7. Samuel Conner

    Reflecting daily updates to reported test results, the county level active case prevalence estimates at this page

    https://urbanobservatory.maps.arcgis.com/apps/MapSeries/index.html?appid=ad46e587a9134fcdb43ff54c16f8c39b

    continue to go up. Suffolk Cty MA is about 4%. SW Long Island counties are now between 6 and 7% of population infected, up from 5 to 6% a couple of days ago (or was it yesterday? — time runs differently for me these days).

    I don’t see how in person schooling avoids infecting every student, and through their families infecting a large proportion in every workplace.

    (I wonder how the original ‘herd immunity’ advocates are feeling these days; they’re getting what they wanted)

    Low density counties in parts of ‘flyover’ continue to have sub 1% prevalence, but one imagines it’s just a matter of time before they are flooded, too.

    The thought occurs that “N95s for general population” would have been a really smart CDC advertising campaign beginning on Black Friday.

    Reply
  8. Fazal Majid

    I generally assume anything made in China is lying about specifications because of the culture of chabuduo (good enough) unless there is a stringent QA process like the one Apple uses to ensure iPhones are up to spec. KN95 is the Chinese equivalent of N95, so a mask marked KN95 is automatically suspect.

    Thus I will only buy N95/FFP2 masks made in the US or EU, or made by a reputable company like 3M (but certainly not from Amazon, since counterfeiting is rife on that platform).

    The difference between medical and non-medical N95 masks is the airflow the mask can sustain, and differentiate between masks used by construction workers vs those used in health care settiings, the filtration effectiveness is the same. In this case the problem is not that the masks were not medical-grade but that they fraudulently did not meet the N95 spec in the first place. Someone in MA purchasing gullibly believed a Chinese vendor when the default should be random testing of the delivered product, which means also allowing sufficient time to replace a lot if it is rejected, something that is not always feasible with sea shipping.

    The problem is, the logistics of purchasing masks in the quantity required for the Massachusetts initiative is non-trivial, and there is just not enough production in trustworthy countries because low-bidding Chinese vendors with questionable ethics have cornered the markets. Furthermore, the German machines to make the melt-blown filters used in the masks are very complex pieces of equipment with long lead times, and thus it would take quite a while to ramp up domestic manufacturing even if the problem of fraudulent incentives was addressed.

    What we need is a serious effort to analyze the supply chain for critical bottlenecks. The DoD has the capability, and showed it when they secured the supply of nose swabs for testing:

    https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2021-03-18/covid-test-swab-company-puritan-faces-family-feud

    Massachusetts does not, and it would be unreasonable to expect them to.

    Reply
    1. GramSci

      Thanks for this comment. I would only add
      that for every unscrupulous Chinese vendor, there are two or three unscrupulous middlemen entrepreneurs, not necessarily or even mostly Chinese, who have helped build these fraudulent supply chains.

      Reply
    2. Joe Well

      There are so many N95 masks being produced in the US that the makers are facing bankruptcy.

      Massachusetts has perhaps the highest median income of any state that isn’t a tax Haven or vacation paradise. And yet, they cheaped out rather than buying quality masks from US manufacturers. The state government is shot through with political appointees and hangers on who can’t even read the label on a plastic bag.

      Because the mask packages say “Non Medical” on them. Oh those sneaky Chinese /s.

      Reply
    3. NotTimothyGeithner

      This is a problem. States an localities are largely stretched as it is and piggyback off of the federales. With the rise of mandates funded and unfunded and matching funds, states don’t have the kind of cash or operational capacity. Lifting mask mandates and not closing schools are one thing, but the White House and Congress are where the fault lies.

      Reply
  9. steve

    The Rot is pervasive. One of it’s signatures is highly credentialed incompetence. Credentials became pay-for schemes divorced from ability. Employment and advancement determined by check boxes on committee designed checklists for the proles and sweet favors for the suits. Stepping upon to step up purposefully rewarded. The sorting has resulted in what you see all around you. The only measure of success the one the Bank approves.

    Reply
  10. Tom Stone

    This is corruption, there’s nothing new about that.
    What is new is the lack of consequences for the corrupt.

    Reply
    1. albrt

      Yes, I wore a beard for most of the last 30 years, but I shaved it off in February 2020 and haven’t let it grow out again, much as I hate shaving.

      Always surprises me a little to see someone with an N95 over a beard, especially a health care worker.

      Reply
    2. KLG

      I had wondered about this. Just after high school I worked in a heavy chemical plant. We were required to carry a respirator with us everywhere, one with activated charcoal filters for filtration. No one with a beard was allowed in the plant, which irritated a lot of truck drivers and outside craftsmen. But they learned.

      Reply
      1. Basil Pesto

        yeah

        I started daily shaving last year, I normally have stubble which I trim as I have difficult skin issues which are exacerbated by shaving. Sucks but that’s ~the new normal~ now

        Reply
    3. Basil Pesto

      I was a bit surprised to see beards kind of handwaved in this otherwise good NY Mag article. It raised an eyebrow. I guess we don’t want perfect v good but I’m not even sure that a respirator over a thick beard rises to the level of ‘good’. At the very least you would want to double mask. But yes, the importance/necessity of shaving is sure to further piss off the ‘muh freedoms’ crowd.

      Of course, none of this would be an issue if we brought the virus under control. Alas.

      Reply
    1. Joe Well

      I don’t trust anything from Amazon because they commingle inventory so counterfeits can get in
      There is a new maker of N95 duckbill masks called Blox. I just got some and they are comfortable and a good fit. Almost like not wearing a mask. About $50 for a box of 50.

      Reply
      1. none

        If it’s like not wearing a mask then it is not filtering the air enough. Good filtration creates air resistance (some people complain they can’t breathe through an n95) and there will be co2 buildup inside the mask, not too bad in the short run but pretty obnoxious for extended periods. I wear an n95 when I have to be around people but I don’t think I could stand to wear one all day.

        I think I can be charitable and imagine the kind of person who made this purchase, without their having to be evil or corrupt or even completely stupid. I see them in offices all the time. They are enjoyable to be around, but let’s just say attention to detail isn’t their thing.

        The current spin seems to be trivializing Omicron, completely ignoring the likelihood of long Covid and general long term effects of viral infectons of all sorts. The Rolling Stone article is fairly vivid:

        https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-commentary/covid-omicron-long-covid-risk-1274717/

        And this is about long term cognitive deficits from infections in general:

        http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25970427

        Yikes. If a politician becomes 20% stupider nobody will notice, but those of us who have to actually get stuff done can’t afford that.

        Reply
        1. Yves Smith

          I just wore an N95 with a procedure mask underneath for 6 hours to stop the leak under my chin, only one short spell when outside briefly with the N95 pulled down but procedure mask still on. Not very pleasant but if that’s what it takes…

          Reply
        2. Joe Well

          >>If it’s like not wearing a mask then it is not filtering the air enough.

          First of all, NIOSH is not going to give a mask an N95 rating if it doesn’t filter the air enough. And I fit tested it first, checking for gaps.

          If you think a mask has to be uncomfortable, you should try a duckbill-style n95.

          You do feel it on your nose but you stop noticing it quickly.

          The masks stay off your nose and mouth and come down way under the chin so you can speak easily.

          Most of the trouble with breathing in masks is that the materials keeps coming too close to your mouth or nose.

          Reply
  11. Joe Well

    >>I’m not sure many contemporary teachers would go so far as invite their students to move in with them

    Since at least the 2000s there are “mandated reporter” laws that require even suspicions of abuse or neglect to be reported to social services.

    In addition, I was trained when I was a teacher to never be alone in a room with one student. Appearances and liability. At my house would be way far from regs.

    Other teachers and former teachers/school staff want to chime in?

    Reply
    1. Kurtismayfield

      I know of teachers that have been foster parents of students, but not letting them live without the them informally.

      Reply
  12. jim truti

    From WSJ
    https://www.wsj.com/amp/articles/omicron-makes-bidens-vaccine-mandates-obsolete-covid-healthcare-osha-evidence-supreme-court-11641760009?mod=hp_opin_pos_1

    The little data we have suggest the opposite. One preprint study found that after 30 days the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines no longer had any statistically significant positive effect against Omicron infection, and after 90 days, their effect went negative—i.e., vaccinated people were more susceptible to Omicron infection. Confirming this negative efficacy finding, data from Denmark and the Canadian province of Ontario indicate that vaccinated people have higher rates of Omicron infection than unvaccinated people.

    Meantime, it has long been known that vaccinated people with breakthrough infections are highly contagious, and preliminary data from all over the world indicate that this is true of Omicron as well. As CDC Director Rochelle Walensky put it last summer, the viral load in the noses and throats of vaccinated people infected with Delta is “indistinguishable” from that of unvaccinated people, and “what [the vaccines] can’t do anymore is prevent transmission.”

    Reply
    1. Yves Smith

      That preprint was crap. I saw it. It claimed to have data for Omicron 90 days after vaccination when this was only about a month after the first four cases in RSA had ben sequenced. That part was a blatant fabrication so one could not take anything else seriously.

      In fact, the fabrication was so obvious I wondered if it was planted to make vax skeptics look bad.

      Moreover, there is confounding data. For instance, in Germany, there are indeed more Omicron case among the vaxxed v. unvaxxed. But the unvaxxed in Germany aren’t allowed to go out and about freely. So how much is due to the vax status v. the activity restriction?

      I am perfectly prepared to believe the vaccines are ineffective v. Omicron; in fact, that is what we predicted. But negative efficacy is an extraordinary claim. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. What I have seen so far doesn’t rise to that level.

      Reply
  13. The Rev Kev

    Having so many governments and medical authorities be so totally incompetent has got to have consequences moving forward, especially in light of the fact that there has been so much erosion of trust which is the glue that holds civil government authority together. What they are I have no idea and it will take years if not decades to play out. But it will not be pretty.

    Reply
  14. Zzzz Andrew

    I have a teenage daughter in a Boston-area public high school. Last year, our city government and school district tried to muscle the teachers back into the classroom in person — an effort which the teachers’ union successfully fended off. (Some teachers came back on a volunteer basis anyway. I’ve been super impressed with the job teachers have been doing from day one.) So the state’s provision of lower-quality masks is more or less par for the course.

    I have more sympathy for school district administrators; the pandemic has been brutal for them, too, and I suspect their attempts to get the teachers back in classrooms were at least in part pro forma. But it’s the teachers who’ve really kept things running. Let me share a (redacted) email I got from one of my daughter’s teachers:

    Hello Students and Community Members,

    We wanted to send you a few quick reminders as we come back to school after break.

    1) Please dress warmly- many classrooms (including ours) must have windows open for air circulation and COVID safety regulations. It is going to be *cold* and layers and gloves will help. Should you (or your child(ren) need winter gear, the ****** has coats and winter gear available. It is right outside the cafeteria at ****** and run by ******. Please reach out if you need help accessing this resource.

    2) Masks are required and must be worn over the mouth AND nose. We are still seeing some students struggle with this, and this is vital to helping keep our community safe. If you need help securing a mask, or need alternate masks, please contact ******

    3) If you would like to opt your child into pool testing and have not yet done so, please access them on the ******

    4) We will be moving directly into our final project of the year when we return, and the next few weeks will be dedicated to the capstone project! This will be done on social reform movements which we began learning about before break.

    We look forward to seeing you all back, and to ending this semester with some terrific historical skills and learning!

    I was so impressed by this — we hadn’t heard anything about dressing warmly, or about the ventilation details, from the district; but the teacher both let us know, *and* made sure that kids who didn’t have warm clothes knew where to get them. I can’t say how happy it makes me to know that my kid is being educated by people with this level of commitment.

    Reply
  15. Nothing

    Aaaaaaahhh! Read this article then went back to my own KN95 masks…. and despite the claim “Filtration Efficiency BFE>95%”, they say “non-medical” on the front. So when I walk around proudly wearing these masks instead of surgeons masks – was this an upgrade or downgrade? Or is there no way to know?

    The example in this article, the comment “25 and 46 percent filter efficiency, compared with the 95 percent gold standard” more or less puts those particular masks on par with a surgeon’s mask, doesn’t it.

    Soooo…. back to basics. If I want to wear an N95 mask, how do I know that the thing on my face complies with N95 standards and is not a fake. Back to the drawing board.

    Reply
  16. Iseeyoudock

    Masking type has been to me the most obvious and easily understood policy error.

    We are still using droplet level protection against an airborne virus. It is astounding. It is official guidance.

    That distinction I think is fully understood by most here, but I think not within the general public.

    I’ve been reading voraciously about this awful thing since January 7 of 20. It was obvious to me after the diamond princes. Bus transmission. Choir outbreaks. The early inductive evidence was strong.

    Every evolutionary iteration has only skewed its transmission mechanism more towards airborne; going from an r nought (rt) of around 2ish for alpha to 7 for delta and at least 10 for omicron.

    I think the collective memory of this mechanism is mostly lost due to the classic diseases which use it have all been brought to heel; ie smallpox, measles, TB.

    Some light reading if interested; I think the wired article is a good historical accounting.

    https://www.pnas.org/content/118/17/e2018995118

    https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2763852

    https://www.wired.com/story/the-teeny-tiny-scientific-screwup-that-helped-covid-kill/

    Unfortunately the only thing a cloth mask will do is hide the double chin.

    I’m not sure if the continued promotion of masking as policy in anything less than a well fit n95 or p 100 with a face shield is a reflection of ignorance or talismanic faith. In either case, it is incorrect policy.

    Reply
    1. mistah charley, ph.d.

      I now use my cloth masks – some handmade by dear ones, a couple from commercial providers with state flag or provincial tartan designs – on top of the N95 mask which is doing the real work – top mask has cosmetic and perhaps air seal benefits.

      Reply
  17. skylark

    MA teacher here. We were asked to come and pick up our 30 masks and 2 test kits on a Sunday morning. A text/phone call then said that due to a problem, we would receive only 20 masks and 1 test kit. The masks were non-medical and the test kit was just a loose packaged swab and a vial and the plastic test strip and had no directions for use. They came packaged in a lovely trash bag which, on reflection, seems to be the most useful item. Local authorities now say we never told you that you had to wear these masks or use this test kit.

    Reply
  18. Roger Blakely

    Living with SARS-CoV-2 means wearing respirators and goggles. Avoid inhaling it. Keep off of your eyeballs (tears wash he virus into the eyelids where it’s off to the races).

    You would think that the champions of neoliberalism, the guardians of all that is right and good would have gotten this by now. Do you want to let’er rip? Do you want to live with the virus? You can. Just have everybody in respirators and goggles (N95s, KN95s, and cartridge respirators).

    The masks need to be able to filter out the virus during inhalation and catch the aerosols during exhalation (source control). N95s and KN95s do that.

    It seems so simple. Neoliberals could have what they want. If everyone were wearing N95s and goggles, we could essentially go back to normal.

    And yet they can’t even say it. And yet health care workers in hospitals, emergency departments, and clinics are still wearing blue medical masks. And yet so many health care workers in Massachusetts are going down sick with COVID-19 that they are calling in the National Guard to staff medical facilities (wearing blue medical masks).

    They just don’t want to win.

    Reply
    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      With the stories about everyone getting Omicron out there, I suspect the White House has decided “herd immunity” without calling it that is their strategy.

      Reply

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