COVID in Israel: The Case for Masks — Even if You're Vaccinated

As the delta variant spreads across Israel, and with other COVID mutations looming on the horizon, the smart move remains to cover your mouth and nose indoors

Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
A group of masked women waiting for a tour of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art last month.
A group of masked women waiting for a tour of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art last month.Credit: Hadas Parush
Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster

You got two shots against the coronavirus. Mazel tov. But you absolutely must continue masking up in closed public places, in Israel too. Why? Not necessarily because you’re ugly, but because of the off-chance that you will become a statistic: One of the minority of vaccinated people who do catch the coronavirus anyway and develop COVID-19.

True, the science shows that the vaccinated generally develop milder cases of COVID than the unvaccinated. But some get bad cases anyway, and even if your condition is mild, you can lose your sense of taste and smell.

Imagine chocolate smelling like gasoline, steak like a swamp, fruit like soap. Imagine nothing smelling appetizing for weeks, months or more; that even your own smell or that of loved ones becomes foul to you.

Before vaccines against the coronavirus were developed, even if you scorned masking for your own safety, a key reason to cover your mouth and nose – not your Adam’s apple – was to protect not just yourself but the public at large from your putative germ set. Not everybody who catches the virus is symptomatic, and it quickly became clear that asymptomatic people were spreading the disease – a problem mitigated by masking.

This has not changed. What has changed is that vaccines were developed. But none are 100 percent effective, because that is how biology works: there are practically infinite parameters.

Nor is the much-vaunted “herd immunity” likely to ever happen, scientists warn,  because of psychology – vaccine hesitancy; biology – the emergence of mutations, aka new variants, which the vaccines may not “handle” as well (the latest to concern experts is the lambda variant, which was first identified in Peru); and inefficiency – in manufacturing, obtaining and administering vaccines to the general population, including children.

Science is still in the process of checking how well the various vaccines work in general, and against the latest wrinkle in the viral assault: the delta variant.

The delta variant seems to have emerged in India and to be more infectious than the original SARS-CoV-2 virus, the cause of COVID. It may also cause more severe disease if you catch it. Israel’s Health Ministry stated Monday that the effectiveness of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine sank to 64 percent in preventing infection in Israel, as the delta variant spreads in the country.

So the bottom line is that a certain percentage of people immunized against SARS-CoV-2 will still catch the coronavirus, in what is called “breakthough infections.” Some will not even notice. Most of those who do notice will get only mildly ill, with sniffles, muscle aches, headaches and that sort of thing, developing a condition generally described as being “like the flu.”

A small percentage of those people will become gravely ill with COVID, despite the shots. Anecdotally, they find this extremely frustrating.

This is not the flu or like the flu. Even a mild case of COVID can have unfortunate effects, such as affecting or losing one’s sense of taste and smell. This does not happen to everybody, by any means. But sometimes it’s the key coronavirus signature symptom.

Beyond the fact that you may still catch the disease and asymptomatically spread it, consider losing your appreciation for your favorite foods, for weeks or more. Some fail to regain their normal senses after a year, and sometimes they develop parosmia, when the odor of a once-favorite food becomes repulsive. This is not a good way to diet off lockdown weight gain.

Shoppers at Tel Aviv's Dizengoff Center last month. When you wear a mask indoors, wear it correctly. Credit: Eyal Toueg

So even if you got your shots, don’t be foolishly sanguine. For your sake, your neighbors’ sake and the sake of your cats and dogs – who can catch your COVID – keep masking up inside closed public spaces. Wear the mask so it covers your mouth and nose. It does no good to anybody on your throat.

Click the alert icon to follow topics: