Is this what’s meant by “throw away” advice?

Last night, while on a Fox News show hosted by Laura Ingraham, Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) said that “if you’ve had the disease or you’ve been vaccinated and you’re several weeks out from the second dose, throw your mask away.” In this case, “the disease” means Covid-19 and “vaccinated” means with the two doses of the available Covid-19 vaccines. These comments start at the 40 second mark in the following video:

He also said, “tell Dr. Fauci to take a leap.”

Huh?

The following tweet captured the specific segment in which Paul said these things about face masks:

To clarify, in addition to being a Senator, Paul is an ophthalmologist, which is type of doctor that specifically diagnoses and treats eye problems. Your eyes are not in your respiratory tract, which is where the SARS-CoV2 typically first infects. If your eyes are indeed in your respiratory tract, call your doctor immediately. By the way, if your face mask is covering your eyes, you are wearing it wrong.

OK, first of all, telling anyone to take a leap is not very nice. It’s rarely an appropriate things to say, unless you are in a long jump competition or trying to motivate someone to do something seemingly risky yet positive like asking someone you’ve been pining for out to dinner, quitting your job to pursue a passion, or covering everything that you cook with chocolate. Secondly, Paul’s advice about masks is a bit like a pair of underwear that’s been around way too long and has been pushed through a bed of nails and some hedgehogs: full of holes.

Let’s look at the science. The available Covid-19 vaccines do not offer 100% protection. In fact, it’s not yet clear how well they may protect you against getting infected with the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV2), carrying the virus, and spreading it. The 90% plus efficacies reported from the clinical trials are just the potential protection that the vaccines may offer against your getting Covid-19 with symptoms. It doesn’t mean that your are 90% protected against an infection without symptoms. Just because you got two doses of the vaccines does not mean that you can’t catch and transmit the virus.

This is especially true with the pandemic in the U.S. now resembling the words from that song in the movie Grease: “I got chills. They’re multiplyin’. And I’m losin’ control.” Unlike South Korea, Taiwan, New Zealand, and Australia, the U.S. has failed to contain the virus. This month the Covid-19 coronavirus has been spreading faster and more widely in this country than at any time during the pandemic. And things have been getting worse and worse.

Therefore, this is not the time to tell people to stop wearing face coverings, which can lower the chance that someone infected can spread the virus. This is not the time to tell people to ease up on other measure such as social distancing. That would be like telling people in the middle of a raging fire to light some scented candles. All of the recommended precautions are still needed, in fact, more than ever. On their own, the available Covid-19 vaccines are not magical potions. They are still just one layer in what needs to be multiple layers of interventions against the pandemic. After all, you wouldn’t go outside in just your underwear to play tackle football in the snow. So why would you rely on just a vaccine in the middle of the worst part of the pandemic?

Moreover, no one knows for sure how long the vaccine’s protection may last. The same applies to natural infection, which may not even offer the same protection as vaccines. There are cases of people getting re-infected with the Covid-19 coronavirus after they have already recovered from Covid-19. In some cases, the second infection was worse than the first. So like a Deuce Bigelow movie, bad things can happen more than once.

Again, recovering from a Covid-19 coronavirus infection or getting the Covid-19 vaccine does not mean that you can abandon other precautions in the middle of the pandemic. Most major problems can’t be solved by a single change and instead require a combination of solutions. There is rarely a single solution to a big problem with the possible exception of cheese and the song “mmmBop.” Lack of a coordinated, organized, multi-layered national response to the pandemic has left the U.S. in its current situation: 240,925 new cases, 127,235 hospitalizations, and 3,744 more reported deaths on January 15 alone, according to the New York Times. You can’t mask the truth of what’s been going on with the pandemic but you can and should continue to use face masks.

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