New, equitable COVID-19 initiatives rolling out

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What’s going on with free COVID-masks and home COVID test kits? How are they acquired – how are they distributed? And are there inequities in making these things available to all of society? We asked those questions to dr. Swapna Reddy, of ASU’s college of health solutions.

Though T-cell immunity holds strong, preventing infection remains a top priority, and masks are still a “key mitigation strategy.”

Unfortunately, the more infectious Omicron variant is proving cloth masks less effective than they were against previous variants, leading experts to recommend using an N-95 mask whenever possible.

Unfortunately, the masks are expensive and are not “necessarily as reusable as cloth masks are.” And lower-income households may find it difficult to purchase these masks. In response, the Biden administration has begun distributing free masks through convenience stores and pharmacies.

“We wish it came out before the omicron surge,” but “better late than never,” Reddy said about the Biden administration releasing free N-95 masks.

Additionally, “testing is incredibly important with this particular surge” because it is so infective. Tests are less available in lower-income, rural areas. Rapid home tests are more accessible but harder to find. They are also expensive.

Fortunately, the federal government is allowing each household to receive 4 free COVID-19 tests.

The rules of COVID-19 have also been changing recently.

“It’s pretty confusing… for all of us,” Reddy said. Recommendations are changing on a regular basis. The science is changing, our understanding is changing as new variants come along,” however, “what we do know is masking is incredibly important especially with this variant.” She added cloth masks just aren’t as effective as N-95 against this variant.

Outdoor masking is less important unless you are in crowded areas, but still provides extra protection.

Reddy also said the pandemic has exasperated inequities in our systems throughout the pandemic. She said vaccine gaps have closed up with certain populations, however, we are still not where we need to be.

Swapna Reddy, JD, DrPH, MPH at ASU College of Health Solutions

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