There was a (slight) uptick in cases in Easthampton last week, and the change pushed the 7-day average for the city back into the "yellow" category of transmission. There were fewer cases two weeks ago, so the 14-day average for the city is still in the "green" category of transmission. It's hard to predict what will happen with cases in Easthampton next week. Case rates in Hampshire and Hampden Counties are continuing to decline - hopefully last week was nothing more than a blip.
This week the dashboard includes a visualization of the science of masking. The table is an adaptation of a table recently produced by the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, and is the summary of a growing body of literature. Any mask provides more protection than no mask. The degree of protection depends on the quality and fit of the mask of both the wearer (you) and other people around you. You can increase your protection significantly by selecting a KF94 mask or, if you have one available, an N95 mask. N95 masks provide the highest level of protection, and can be worn "non-fit-tested" (basically just putting it on) or "fit-tested." Probably only health care providers have access to a fit-tested N95. That's okay! A non-fit-tested N95 is about equal to a KF94 mask. Masks aren't perfect and can't prevent every infection, but they do reduce the risk quite a bit. Notably, the body of literature on masking overwhelmingly indicates that masks are not harmful to the wearer. For those who are interested, I've included more information on the concept of a "body of literature" below.
*A word on what it means to have a "body of literature" - in general, researchers attempting to answer a question (such as "how well do masks work?") design a study and submit a grant for funding to run the study. The funding could be from the government or an organization. After several rounds of review, the "best" studies are funded. To get funding, a study will generally have an optimal study design with an appropriate plan for data analysis and will be answering an important research question. Not all studies are funded. Once the study is complete, the data collected and analyzed, and the conclusions written into a manuscript, the manuscript is submitted to a peer-reviewed scientific journal for distribution. Manuscripts accepted for publication go through at least one round (but usually two or three rounds) of revision and resubmission to the journal. First the manuscript is read by other experts in the field who carefully look at the study design and methods to make sure the conclusions are accurate and reflect the data collected. The authors revise the manuscript and then resubmit to the experts again for review. Once the study is accepted and published, it is added to the "body of literature" on a particular subject. We can start to feel confident in a conclusion when many independent peer-reviewed studies asking the same question come up with the same answer. It's not a perfect system, but using this approach allows us to draw conclusions and move a field of research forward. The bottom line is that the best we can do is look at not just a single study, but look at many different studies answering the same question. They don't all have to have the same conclusion, but the answer becomes clear(er) by looking at the studies as a group.
-Megan W. Harvey, PhD, MS