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Delta's in the Air: Why Masks Indoors Make Sense Against This Variant

August 25, 2021

Remember, little more than year ago, when we were sanitizing countertops, wiping down food packages and feeling some comfort when facing a cashier through a transparent sheet of polymethyl methacrylate plastic? Those were COVID's early days, when the science indicated the virus was more likely to spread through droplets. Delta, the latest COVID strain, is nearly twice as contagious and produces 1,000 times the amount of virus in your nose and throat -- known as the viral load -- according to one study. The Delta variant, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said earlier this month represents more than 93 percent of all new cases in the United States, appears more of an airborne virus than the original COVID. That is, it's more of a wear-a-mask virus to prevent an infection from invisible droplets that can remain airborne in an enclosed space like a store or restaurant for hours. "We do have some data that wearing a mask helps protect you from getting infected with viruses such as COVID-19," says Dr. Virginia Bieluch, Chief of Infectious Diseases at The Hospital of Central Connecticut in New Britain. "So indoors, when you're with people you don't know -- I'm talking about public areas -- it's a good idea to wear a mask right now." Delta is more likely to spread through tiny aerosol particles emitted when people open their mouth, whether to speak, breathe, talk or yawn. These tiny droplets could contain more virus particles when measured against larger moisture droplets. Singapore researchers reported earlier this month, in Clinical Infectious Diseases, that 85 percent of coronavirus RNA detected in infected patients' breath was found in fine aerosol particles less than 5 micrometers. To give you an idea of the size, 1 millimeter equals 1,000 micrometers (or microns). The fully vaccinated are still vulnerable, according to a study released by the CDC Tuesday that showed vaccine effectiveness dropped to 66 percent from 91 percent after Delta became the dominant strain. Connecticut has left mask guidance to individual municipalities, which allows better targeting of areas with the highest transmission levels. More than two dozen cities and towns have made their own mask rules. East Hartford, among the latest, started a mandate at midnight Tuesday that requires all residents age 2 and older to wear a mask in public indoor spaces, regardless of vaccination. If you don't? You could face a $100 fine. Even worse, you could face a COVID infection.