UCSF doctor vs. Nate Silver on whether it's 'neurotic' to double mask on a plane post-vaccination
"As more and more Bay Area residents are vaccinated, many are looking forward to summer air travel as a way to celebrate. But before you throw away those face shields or dream about indulging in a leisurely in-flight cocktail, UCSF Department of Medicine chair Dr. Bob Wachter cautioned people it may be too soon for that type of traveling in a recent Washington Post article.
“When [planes] turn into a flying restaurant, the dynamics of spread become very different,” he told the Post. “I would not eat at an indoor restaurant at this point, even being fully vaccinated, and so the time during which the plane is, in fact, an indoor restaurant is a time when it is somewhat less safe.”
Wachter’s recommendation came under fire from skeptics, including from statistician and FiveThirtyEight founder Nate Silver. Silver said on a recent flight he saw very few people double masking and no one was wearing a face shield. “The people who are so risk-averse as to be reading articles about what precautions they should take *even after vaccination* are probably not getting on flights in the first place. They probably don't need to be told to be more cautious. In many respects they may be too cautious!” he wrote on Twitter.
What inspired this tweet the other day was an article that said even vaccinated people should double-mask and wear face shields when flying.
Today I'm on my first flight in more than a year. (Thanks, Pfizer!) It's quite full. What's the reality like? How many face shields? 🧵 https://t.co/ii4HaYgzGO— Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) April 18, 2021
Wachter defended his assertions via Twitter, using his own glut of stats to enable others to make their own risk assessments.
Most breakthrough infections are mild but there are rare ones that are serious. Of >75M people fully vaxxed as of 4/13, CDC has logged 5814 breakthrough infctns (documented Covid post-full vaccination). That’s not surprising. As we know, the vaccines aren't 100% protective.(3/25)— Bob Wachter (@Bob_Wachter) April 18, 2021
… breakthrough infections, & minuscule numbers of hospitalizations & deaths. If 2/3 of the 74 deaths were also Covid-related, we’re talking 50 deaths from Covid in 75M fully vaccinated people, or a chance of dying from Covid after full vaccination of 1 in 1.5 million.(5/25)— Bob Wachter (@Bob_Wachter) April 18, 2021
Wachter said he’s flown two to three times in 2021 and even said he’s fine hanging out with unvaccinated friends and family right now since the test positivity rate is low in San Francisco. He’s been fully vaccinated since January, receiving two Pfizer shots in December and January.
Still, he said he won’t eat indoors at restaurants.
Per CDC, indoor dining has been among highest risk activities. Masks are off most of the time. And, while I know my tablemates, I don’t know the folks at other tables. I like eating in restaurants, but it’s just not that important to me. Ergo: outdoor dining OK, no indoor.(14/25)— Bob Wachter (@Bob_Wachter) April 18, 2021
Wachter wasn’t the only UCSF doctor to come under scrutiny over the weekend. Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease doctor, was quoted in a Slate op-ed about loosening mask mandates outdoors. Gandhi said that while going maskless outside in San Francisco will draw glares from neighbors, it’s not entirely necessary anymore and she said she has messaged that to city officials.
Gandhi said there should be a clear threshold for when outdoor mask mandates can be lifted, suggesting it could be 10 hospitalizations per 100,000 people with 40 percent of people having received their first vaccine dose."
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