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Many recent developments have allowed for the hope that the global pandemic may soon come to an end. Newly inaugurated President Joe Biden promised to administer 100 million doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines within his first 100 days of office. At the time of publication, millions of doses have already been shipped and administered across the nation. However, even with the arrival of the vaccine, wearing a mask is still absolutely necessary to save lives.

COVID-19 has become even more dangerous as it now mutates, with new variants emerging throughout the globe. The B.1.1.7 variant, also known as the British variant, is thought to be 50 percent more contagious while B.1.351 variant, or the South African Variant, has shown to have a higher resistance against the immune system and vaccines. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the vaccine works with two doses: the first shot starts building protection, and the second shot builds more resilience against the coronavirus. But this protection only goes so far. Even with the vaccine, it is still possible to contract and spread the virus. There are reports of people, including important officials, testing positive for the virus even after the vaccine was administered to them. 

The effectiveness of the vaccine is also dependent on its distribution and safety. To achieve a proper ending to the pandemic, herd immunity must be achieved. Dr. Anthony Fauci has stated that this may be possible by the end of 2021 while other experts say otherwise. There is also the possibility of continuing the spread of the virus, even if the vaccine is successful, as individuals may still be asymptomatic carriers. 

For these reasons, wearing a face mask is one of the simplest and most effective methods to protect ourselves from COVID-19. Many states have already implemented legislation that requires people to wear a mask or face-covering in public places. The importance of such mandates also lies in how we help those around us. Front-line healthcare workers and essential workers put their lives on the line each day as their risk of death has risen significantly. Until more protections are implemented for them, it is our duty to do our part to protect these individuals. 

Over time, we’ve learned the importance of specifically obtaining an N95 mask. The N95 is specifically designed and layered with synthetic material to filter 95 percent of respiratory aerosols or chemicals which you breathe, hence the 95 in the name. These masks have become relatively cheap and readily available, though it appears that the U.S. has not produced enough for workers, even with the Defense Production Act. 

To make matters more complicated, mask usage still remains an issue. While many Americans follow public health recommendations and wear masks, others passionately fight against them, claiming that they impair individual freedom. Donald Trump and his administration began his pandemic response with a denial of COVID-19 and the threat it posed and downplayed the importance of mask usage, leading to a divide forming among Republican leaders. In contrast, Democratic leaders, including the Biden administration, have been more vocal about the importance of face masks, rightfully stating their effectiveness in slowing the spread of the virus. 

Evidence has proven the effectiveness of mask-wearing, especially when considering how other countries handled the pandemic. The ground zero for the virus, Wuhan, China, has greatly benefited from strict adherence to COVID-19 safety protocols, primarily mask-wearing. Other countries, such as South Korea, have effectively curbed most COVID-19 deaths through effective mask usage in conjunction with other measures such as contact tracing. In fact, a study that observed coronavirus deaths across 198 countries found that those with cultural norms or government policies favoring mask-wearing had lower death rates.

The benefits of wearing a mask are not only for the protection of oneself but for the benefit of everyone around. And even with the arrival of a vaccine, COVID-19 cases and deaths still continue to surge, making it critical to still continue practicing social distancing, wash your hands and, of course, wear your mask. 

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