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7 Face Masks Your Kids May Actually Wear (2023)

7 Face Masks Your Kids May Actually Wear (2023)

For three years, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued complicated—and occasionally contradictory—guidance on when you should wear a mask, depending on whether you’re inside, outside, vaccinated, or not vaccinated. But no matter how cautious you are, if you’re a parent, there is one significant way you’re probably getting sick: Your kid is now in school.

This summer brought an uptick in cases, due to a number of factors—whether that was wildfire smoke that may affect the immune system or waning immunity from vaccinations. Ventilation and vaccination remain key tools in combating the spread, and so is a good mask. Unvaccinated children 2 years old and above should wear face masks in public spaces. If your kids are back in school or if you’re planning to travel this fall, you should probably refresh your mask stash.

I have a 6-year-old and an 8-year-old in elementary school, and we still wear masks if we have the sniffles or if we’re traveling. The CDC still notes that N95 masks offer the best protection. However, these masks have not been tested for broad use on smaller children, and as I noted in my Best Face Masks for Adults guide, the ideal mask is the one that fits well and that your kid will wear.

If you’re looking for ideas to entertain your small (or not-so-small) kids when they’re sick or quarantining, check out our guides to entertaining preschoolers during quarantine and how to set up a virtual workspace for your kids.

Updated September 2023: We added the latest coronavirus pandemic information, updated information for several masks, removed older cloth mask picks, and updated links and pricing.

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What Doctors Wish You Knew About HIPAA and Data Security

What Doctors Wish You Knew About HIPAA and Data Security

A former Department of Homeland Security adviser and a doctor, Chris Pierson is CEO of BlackCloak, a company that specializes in personal digital protection from financial fraud, cybercrime, reputational damage, and identity theft. He believes vigilance is key for doctors and patients alike.

Protect Your Entire Family

“I don’t think people realize that once someone is able to get just one piece of information, that can lead to opening others’ private data,” Pierson says. “It’s no longer the original individual on their computer, but additional family members’ identity that can be compromised.”

He explains that even if one organization keeps your data safe, another associated one may not, and that’s where criminals will strike. 

“It’s not just medical offices. It’s your pharmacy, labs, insurance company, anyone who keeps personal information. That has real value, and selling it is the priority.”

Victims of identity theft can be revictimized when personal information gets into multiple hands. A street address and verified phone number can go far, especially if the phone contains many contacts, who then become vulnerable to attack themselves.

“If you get Mom’s info, you can get the child’s as well. An ID card, social security, all of it, and then they have the ability to collect false medical claims or just extortion. It’s a two for one.”

Two-Factor Authentication Is Worth the Effort

Pierson mentions how critically important it is to use a multistep authentication system. Your level of protection goes up considerably just by using secure passwords and one-time authentication codes.

Thankfully, setting all this up is easier than it sounds. Apps on your phone or tablet can help. Google Authenticator, when paired with a service that supports authenticator apps, provides a six-digit number that changes every few seconds and can keep people out of your data even if they have your username and password. Other companies ask users to enter an SMS code as the second authentication factor, in addition to a password, although SMS codes are less secure than authenticator apps. Either approach is better than none—unless a hacker is in physical possession of your phone, they are not getting access.

Social Media and Tracking

Social media is becoming a popular way for health care providers and entrepreneurs to connect with the public—and often to sell them treatments or advice. These Instagram or TikTok accounts may offer tips from someone in the medical industry, which can appeal to those facing rising health care costs and difficulties accessing care. But an internet doctor’s background or popularity does not ensure that they observe strong privacy guidelines or secure their transactions.

My Instagram is flooded with offers promising everything from better sleep to improved sexual health. It’s nice to have options, but that help and any information you receive from those accounts or send to them isn’t covered under HIPAA. Any time you pay out of your own pocket for health-related items or services, or on a direct-to-consumer health app, there is no recourse if someone steals your personal information or shares it.

Along with social media and direct-to-consumer health options comes large-scale data tracking. Outside of official medical practices, you should view surveillance as an expectation, rather than an exception.

Ask Questions

When you sign up for any service, whether through a new doctor’s patient portal or an online supplement shop, ask how your data is stored and where it goes. Read the privacy policies and settings, even briefly, to find out what options you have to restrict the sale or reuse of your data. Check the default settings to make sure you’re not giving away too much information. Find out if the service or platform offers two-factor authentication and set that up if it’s available. Know that it’s rare for anyone to need your social security number, no matter what a customer service agent says. A birth date and address is usually enough.

Pierson and others agree that we all need to consider security from several angles and do our best to protect ourselves and our loved ones. “The sophistication of identity attacks will always evolve and change. Remember, they only have to get it right once, but we have to guess right all of the time.”

This Scorching Summer Is Taking a Toll on Your Favorite Foods

This Scorching Summer Is Taking a Toll on Your Favorite Foods

On the map of the US Drought Monitor, a joint project of federal agencies and the University of Nebraska, colored warnings cover the landscape. It’s abnormally dry in Michigan. Minnesota is in moderate drought. A severe drought covers the Pacific Northwest, central Texas, and southern Wisconsin, and the breadbasket states of Nebraska, Missouri, and Kansas are splattered with scarlet and oxblood, the hottest colors for the most worrying conditions. Those areas are all in extreme drought, and parts of them have sunk into a state that the project calls “exceptional”—that is, places where the effects will last longer than six months.

Those places are dry because they are hot. The extraordinary heat domes that have clamped down on parts of the US aren’t only making life miserable for people, including city dwellers without adequate indoor cooling or drivers and farm workers forced to work outdoors. They also are harming crops: slowing growth, reducing yields, and undermining harvests. The disruptions aren’t yet a catastrophe; the US is still growing enough calories to feed its people and to trade internationally. But crop and climate experts worry that they are a sign of increasing instability in food production, as unpredictable weather undermines the seasonal patterns that farmers rely on.

“Climate models for agriculture have projected into the future based on what happened in the past,” says Erin Coughlan de Perez, a climate scientist and associate professor at Tufts University’s Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, and lead author of a June study predicting that 100-year heat waves could begin cycling as rapidly as every six years in the Midwest, undermining wheat plants’ development. “In the past, maybe temperature was not a constraint on wheat; maybe it didn’t ever reach temperatures that cause crop loss,” she continues. “But that doesn’t mean it won’t happen in the future.”

Reports from across the US attest to crops being harmed by heat and drought. In Georgia—still known as the Peach State though it is only the third-biggest producer—almost all of the peach crop was lost to an unseasonably warm February followed by two late freezes in March. In Texas in June, cotton plants alarmingly shed their bolls, the hard fruits that hold the valuable fiber, in order to survive the metabolic stress of hot nights. The Kansas winter wheat crop, which is harvested in summer, is predicted to be the smallest in more than two decades.

The problems created by extreme heart are not limited to US farms. Spain, the world’s largest producer of olive oil, faces a bad harvest for the second year in a row because of a spring heat wave that affected olive trees’ flowering, followed by extreme summer heat that is causing unripe fruit to drop. Blistering heat in Italy has cut tomato production by a third. The European farming organization Copa-Cogeca predicted in July that heat and drought would slash grain harvests in almost every EU nation. India, the world’s largest rice exporter, has banned the export of some varieties because unusual weather patterns are reducing production. In China, both row crops and farmed animals have been killed by heat waves. And in Iran, the government put the entire country on pause for two days this week because temperatures were so high.

All of these unpredicted shortfalls are being made worse in agricultural markets by the ongoing crisis in Ukraine—one of the world’s major breadbaskets, which has now been under attack by Russia for more than 500 days. In July, Russia unilaterally withdrew from a United Nations pact that allowed Ukrainian grain to be transported out of the Black Sea, depriving an array of nations from receiving shipments and spiking international prices for wheat and corn. Russia followed that action by saying it would construe any cargo ships heading to Ukrainian ports to be carriers of military materiel, a not-subtle threat of attack. It then bombed both Ukraine’s Black Sea port of Odesa and also grain depots in Reni and Izmail on the Danube River, which analysts had hoped might provide an alternative export route.

Covid’s Summer Wave Is Rising—Again

Covid’s Summer Wave Is Rising—Again

At this point, it’s too early to say there’s a massive wave of infections building—but the hospitalization data is enough to pique the attention of epidemiologists and public health experts. Although case and hospitalization numbers are still relatively low, the virus does kill hundreds of people in the US each week. And as of early 2023, it had left an estimated one in 10 survivors fighting long Covid, which can include persistent health issues like breathlessness and brain fog.

There could be a few reasons for the current uptick in cases, waning immunity among them. Just around 17 percent of the US population has received bivalent vaccines, which became widely available in the fall of 2022 and are meant to offer better protection against Omicron variants. With lower case numbers over the past few months and many people not receiving a booster shot in 2023, immunity from vaccinations and prior infections could be decreasing, making more people susceptible to the virus, says Sam Scarpino, director of AI and life sciences at the Institute for Experiential AI at Northeastern University.

Experts guessed that Covid-19 would become seasonal, peaking in the fall and winter like the flu and the common cold, but other factors have kept the virus around in warmer months. “It’s true that you have cyclical patterns for most of these respiratory diseases,” Scarpino says. “I don’t think it’s really well understood what drives those.”

There could be some particular factors at play this year. Much of the US is enduring a suffocating summer. Wildfire smoke from Canada has engulfed the East Coast and Midwest, and exposure to the particulate pollution that comes with the smoke may weaken the immune system. Those were the findings of a 2021 study: In 2020, parts of California, Oregon, and Washington that experienced wildfire smoke saw excess Covid-19 cases and deaths. Meanwhile, dangerously high temperatures are keeping people indoors in the southern part of the US, and as a respiratory virus, SARS-CoV-2 spreads most easily indoors. People also traveled at record rates during the summer’s early months, which meant more opportunities for Covid to spread. But it’s not yet clear whether one, all, or none of these factors may be driving infections.

Genomic sequencing from the CDC shows that, as of June, offshoots of the Omicron variant are responsible for all of Covid-19 cases in the US. “On one hand, this is a good sign,” says Jetelina. “We can hopefully predict where SARS-CoV-2 is going.” That’s helpful for formulating updated coronavirus vaccinations. But it’s not certain that the virus’s evolution will continue down this Omicron path. In May, experts estimated the possibility of a highly mutated variant of concern arising during the next two years at about 20 percent.

In June, the US Food and Drug Administration recommended the development of an updated Covid-19 shot, preferring a formula that would target the XBB.1.5 Omicron variant. The FDA may authorize such a shot by the end of the month. But it’s hard to know whether people will be eager to get a fifth or sixth vaccine—pandemic fatigue, distrust of public health officials, and an overall return to normal life left many unenthused about last year’s booster and contributed to the low uptake rates. And while the US government previously bought doses directly and helped distribute them for free, the distribution of vaccines is now expected to move to the private sector.

Officials are unlikely to roll out wide-ranging restrictions on masking and social distancing—and barring a threatening new subvariant or a massive peak in cases, people are unlikely to change their behaviors after living alongside the virus for more than three years. It’s too soon to know whether the latest Covid-19 cases are a blip or a big wave. But as the dog days of summer linger, Covid is hanging around too.

Doctors on Bikes Prevented a Humanitarian Catastrophe in Ukraine

Doctors on Bikes Prevented a Humanitarian Catastrophe in Ukraine

As the war rolled on, organizations responding to the crisis came to realize that they had to be flexible and think beyond fixed, brick-and-mortar health care infrastructure. They needed to get ART to people—interrupted treatment can contribute to drug resistance—and they needed to continue, and scale up, harm reduction programs.

Andriy Klepikov, the executive director of the Alliance for Public Health, a nonprofit organization that focuses on HIV and tuberculosis, says his teams deployed 37 mobile clinics from Lviv in the west to Kharkiv in the northeast, providing more than 109,000 consultations, testing more than 90,000 people for the communicable diseases, delivering close to 2,000 metric tons of humanitarian aid and medical gear to 200 health care facilities, and connecting with small villages that would otherwise have been abandoned to their fate.

Equipped with bulletproof vests, helmets, and metal detection gear, the Alliance’s staff headed into recently liberated cities and villages, some only a few kilometers from the front line. “We work where nobody else works, where there are no hospitals, no pharmacists, no doctors,” Klepikov says.

When fuel became hard to find last summer, they switched their vans for bicycles. In his office in Kyiv, Klepikov proudly showed me a photo of one of the Alliance’s doctors hand-delivering care in a shelled-out city while riding one of the bikes his organization had provided.

Preliminary data shows that disaster has—for now at least—been averted. At the end of 2021, just two months before the war began, about 132,000 Ukrainians living with HIV were on ART. Since then, the latest available figures show that this number has only slightly dipped to 120,000. Since the onset of the full-scale invasion, Ukraine’s public health sector has connected 12,000 new people to ART. That latest available data from February 2023 also shows that during 2022, more people began taking PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) than in the previous four years.

These successes have come at great personal cost. Rachinska, who has herself been living with HIV for more than 15 years, kept working in Kyiv as air raid sirens echoed through the capital. Her mother took Rachinska’s youngest son and fled to Italy. She’s visited him only a couple times since then but hopes she’ll make it back to Naples this October, ahead of his 11th birthday.

Rachinska could have joined them but says her work—“her people,” as she calls them—takes priority. Her son doesn’t hold it against her, she says. “I’m just like, ‘sweetie, mommy’s doing something good for people. So just forgive me,’” she says, tearing up. Her son often replies, “OK, do your job.”

In Kryvyi Rih, Lee, 47, says he created his makeshift sanctuary after realizing early in the war that at-risk populations, such as drug users, HIV-positive people, sex workers, LGBTQ+ people, and the recently incarcerated were more likely to be turned away from other spaces offering refuge. He secured funding from UNAIDS and logistical support from the Public Health Charity Foundation and set out to rescue people on his own.