The pandemic has gone on for more than a year. We’re all tired of wearing masks, washing our hands and staying six feet away from anyone not in our households. With vaccines rolling out and everyone over 16 now being eligible, it’s tempting to think we’ve beaten COVID-19 and it’s okay to toss those masks and go back to pre-pandemic life.

But although there’s a light at the end of this tunnel, we’re not out of the tunnel yet. Even as vaccines roll out, many areas in the country are still seeing high rates of positive cases, hospitalizations and deaths. It’s more important than ever that we continue to do our part to get us through the homestretch.

We spoke with Nicole Gaudino, executive director of University health and wellness, who shared her knowledge and tips on vaccines, safety precautions going forward and how to handle mask fatigue. Let’s continue to work together to keep campus safe.

The positive COVID-19 rates on campus have been roughly 1 percent for the past couple of weeks. More and more people are getting vaccinated. Do we have to be so vigilant with safety precautions?

Yes, absolutely. Even though the on-campus positivity rate is down, the rate is currently over 4 percent in the surrounding areas of Nassau County. These areas are not in a good stance as far as COVID-19 is concerned. So it’s very important we continue to follow safety precautions—wear a mask, stay six feet apart, wash our hands and do other protective hygiene measures. And get vaccinated.

Do we have to continue to follow safety precautions after vaccination?

The CDC has issued guidelines on what you can do once you’re fully vaccinated. For example, you can socialize with other vaccinated people in a small group without wearing masks or staying six feet apart. But in general, we do have to continue to follow precautions. That’s because we’re still learning how vaccines will affect the spread of COVID-19. According to the CDC, the vaccines may work against some variants but could be less effective against others. We don’t know if vaccinated people can still spread the disease to others who aren’t vaccinated. And we don’t know how long the vaccine will protect you.

So why should we get vaccinated?

Even though there are things we don’t know, vaccinations are a way to prepare your body’s immune response to fight COVID-19 if exposed. People are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after their final dose. If you do get symptoms of COVID-19, the vaccine may keep you from getting seriously ill. We need 70 to 90 percent of the population vaccinated for us to keep the virus from spreading and possibly mutating into variants. Getting everyone vaccinated is crucial to containing the pandemic and getting us back to a normal way of life.

What do we need to know about the coronavirus variants?

Viruses constantly mutate, creating new variants. That’s what we’re seeing now, with multiple variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 being documented in the United States and globally. These variants seem to spread more easily and quickly than other variants, which may lead to more cases of COVID-19. The guidelines for protecting ourselves from variants are the same ones we’ve been using—social distance, wear a mask and wash your hands.

Do you need to be six feet apart from people if you’re all wearing masks?

Yes. It’s crucial we maintain at least six feet of social distancing from others, even when wearing a mask. That’s because masks do not filter 100 percent of virus particles.

Where can you take a mask break on campus?

We all experience mask fatigue. If you need to take a break, go outside and take your mask off—as long as you are more than six feet away from another person. Remember to put your mask back on when someone comes closer.

Do you have to wear a mask in a reserved study space, if you’re the only one there and the door is closed?

Research shows that it is possible to contract the virus from surfaces.

If you’re in a student lounge and there’s no one within six feet, can you remove your mask to eat or drink?

You can remove your mask briefly to eat or drink—as long as there’s no one within six feet, of course.

What type of mask should you wear on campus?

A cloth mask with two to three layers—preferably with a filter pocket—or a disposable surgical mask are the best options.

For disposable masks, what’s the difference between a paper mask and a surgical mask? They look the same.

Medical masks are FDA-registered, meeting strict guidelines for filtration, splash resistance and breathability. Some surgical masks are made of paper, so you want a surgical mask made out of a nonwoven material called polypropylene. This material holds an electrostatic charge that traps virus particles. The packaging should note that the product has been authorized by the FDA.

What should I look for when purchasing a cloth mask?

Look for masks with two or more layers of washable, breathable fabric—100 percent cotton is recommended. The mask must completely cover your nose and mouth, and it should fit snugly against the sides of your face without gaps. Look for a nose wire to prevent air from escaping out the top of the mask. Even better is a fabric mask with two layers and a filter pocket.

What materials should I use as a filter?

You can use a PM2.5 carbon filter, as long as it is flexible. Even coffee filters can be used as filters. An easy—and much better option—is a material called spunbond, also sold under the brand name Oly-Fun. It’s available at fabric stores. Like surgical masks, spunbond is made out of polypropylene, so it uses the power of static electricity to trap virus particles.

Do you have to wear the mask over your nose?

Yes! COVID rests in the nasal passages and is released when you exhale. When your nose isn’t covered, you are increasing your chances of spreading COVID when you exhale, as well as contracting COVID when inhaling. The mask should form a seal.

Should you double mask—surgical mask with cloth mask on top?

Yes, wearing two masks—disposable mask underneath—and a cloth mask on top—offers better protection than one mask alone.

How long can you wear a mask for?

A good rule is to not wear a covering for more than one day. It’s a good idea to have a spare mask with you, so you’re good to go if you notice the mask you’re wearing is soiled or damaged—for example, if the material is torn or punctured or the ear loops are stretched out.

What if you need to sneeze while you’re wearing a mask? Mask on or mask off?

Keep your mask on. Try to move away from others and sneeze into your elbow. This is what that spare mask is for! When you’re alone, change masks and dispose of the soiled mask by throwing it into the trash or placing in a plastic bag to be laundered later.

If you do not have access to a new mask, you can pick up a disposable mask free of charge at the following locations:

  • Garden City Campus: Center for Recreation and Sports (CRS), reception desk
  • Garden City Campus: Student Health Services
  • Garden City Campus: Department of Public Safety and Transportation, Levermore Hall, Suite 113
  • Garden City Campus: Swirbul Library, reception desk, lower level
  • Garden City Campus: Nexus Building, lobby area
  • Garden City Campus: Nexus Building, admissions desk
  • Garden City Campus: Hy Weinberg Center, Room 302
  • Garden City Campus: Hagedorn Hall of Enterprise, reception desk, Room 121
  • Manhattan Center: reception desk
  • Hauppauge Center: reception desk
  • Hudson Valley Center: reception Desk

Visit Adelphi’s COVID-19 news site for the latest updates and campus communications.

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