Masks: To Wear or Wear Not

To wear, obviously.

So then why weren’t face masks heavily recommended from the start? Let’s keep in mind, this is a new virus and we are still learning about it every day. At the time, experts didn’t yet know the extent to which people with COVID-19 could spread the virus before symptoms appear, or that people could remain asymptomatic entirely.

Think about how many interactions with people and surfaces an individual could have in the week before they know they are sick. That’s why many states beginning the slow re-openings, are requiring face masks in public. The use of face masks does not mean that all other forms of prevention like social distancing and hand washing should decrease at all. The six feet away rule still applies.

Face masks, when fitted properly, effectively disrupt the forward momentum of particles expelled from a cough or sneeze, preventing disease transmission. Even if the face masks are ill-fitting, they are still able to interrupt the particles and airborne viruses sufficiently, such that these pathogens do not reach the breathing zones of people nearby.

Of course, the N95’s and surgical masks need to be reserved for the healthcare workers and first responders who are directly dealing with the virus, so cloth masks should be worn by the rest of the general public.

The idea behind the cloth mask is not to protect the wearer from the virus so much as it is to protect everyone else from the wearer. Without masks, we are now seeing that people can likely spread the germs just by breathing, but fabric masks can catch most of those germs. Of course, this logic only works if everyone complies, which for anyone who has ever participated in a group project, you know how difficult that can be. We have to do our part to protect the population that can’t protect themselves and are at a higher mortality risk with this virus.

A study from the Singapore Medical Journal about the use of face masks to prevent a respiratory infection revealed that higher education was positively associated with mask-wearing behavior.

The following is an excerpt from an article about face masks by Erin Garcia de Jesus Ph.D. and Tina Hesman Saey Ph.D.

“With cloth masks, some viruses may shoot straight through as well as around the sides and top. Another limit of all mask studies: No one has shown how many coronavirus particles are needed to start an infection.For some viruses, as few as one virus may be enough. But even if a cloth mask filters out only 10 percent of virus particles, “in a pandemic, maybe it’s worth doing,” says Donald Milton. He’s an expert on infectious diseases at the University of Maryland School of Public Health, in College Park. A mask of any sort may help capture some virus-laden droplets before they can enter the air. They also will reduce the forward force of the exhaled cloud of droplets, diverting flow and cutting turbulence. That should limit how far the particles can travel. But a mask “does not replace social distancing,” says Lydia Bourouiba of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. “It is not high-grade protection that people should feel overconfident about.”

Countries that required face masks, testing, isolation and social distancing early in the pandemic seem to have had some success slowing the disease’s spread. Common sense also suggests that some protection is better than none. But wearing a cloth face mask will lose any value unless it’s combined with frequent hand-washing and social distancing.

And we can’t have a discussion about face masks and not bring up wearing it correctly. Only covering your mouth and leaving your nose uncovered IS NOT DOING ANYTHING!

Let’s all do our part to flatten the curve and get back to normal.

Six feet apart!

Wash those hands!

Wear a mask in public!

A chalk message and rainbow adorn a driveway with a positive message in the fight against the coronavirus at a Bloomington, Minn. home Wednesday, April 1, 2020, (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

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