Since the beginning of this global pandemic, there have been many mixed messages about masks and their level of effectiveness against COVID-19.
As coronavirus continues to spread throughout the US, the advice for American citizens regarding wearing masks in public is shifting.
Should We Wear Face Masks in Public? Let’s find out.
Why Should We Wear Face Masks in Public?
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has previously advised against wearing masks until symptoms are present. In February, while mask-wearing became mandatory in many Asian countries, the US surgeon general urged the public to stop buying masks. He warned that they were ineffective in slowing down the spread of the coronavirus and that increased buying was limiting the supply to healthcare workers on the frontline.
The CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public where social distancing measures are difficult to maintain and in areas where community-based transmission is a notable risk. Today, we know much more about the nature of the virus, how it works, and why it spreads.
Are Masks Effective Against COVID-19?
Recent studies show that the way in which the virus spreads is different from the way that experts initially thought. We now know that this coronavirus can be spread by people that don’t show any symptoms, which is interesting considering this way of transmission was previously considered rare. These asymptomatic silent carriers pose a real threat to the rate of transmission, both locally and globally.
Masks have been seen to help slow down the spread of the virus by reducing the number of large droplets expelled from unaware virus carriers when they breathe and talk. They also help to limit the distance that these infectious droplets can travel, which means they are less likely to land in the mouths and noses of the not-yet-infected.
While research on the effectiveness of masks is relatively minimal right now, the evidence does suggest that if Americans wore a cloth face-covering cases would decrease.
Wearing a mask in public is important as it protects others from yourself if you happen to be asymptomatic. This means that in order to reduce community transmission, everyone should make the same conscientious decision to wear a mask.
Is Wearing a Mask Mandatory?
The guidance from the CDC is a “voluntary health measure”. President Donald Trump has also made it clear that he will not be choosing to wear a mask. However, more than half of the states in the US have taken the recommendation one step further and have made it mandatory for people to wear masks or face coverings in public.
As parts of the US begin to re-open, not wearing a mask in the right place at the right time can lead to fines or even arrest. The ever-growing list of areas that require face masks includes portions of 38 states, including California, New York, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Hawaii, New Jersey, Connecticut, Michigan, Kentucky, and Texas. Be sure to take note of your city’s rules before leaving your home.
Where Should We Wear Masks?
Ensure you have a mask with you if you plan to be in any of the following places or situations:
- Grocery stores
- Pharmacies and hospitals
- Public transport
- Where maintaining social distancing is not possible
Current guidelines state that wearing a mask while exercising in large open spaces, such as going for a run or jog, is not necessary. Neither is wearing a mask while driving. However, carrying a mask or cloth face covering with you at all times is recommended, should you come into contact with someone where keeping a six-feet distance is not possible.
What Kind of Mask do We Need?
While there are many different kinds of face masks, current guidelines recommend a cloth mask, homemade or otherwise, that covers the nose and mouth. N95 respirators and surgical masks are medical-grade face coverings that are in limited supply and need to be reserved for healthcare professionals working on the frontline.
Cloth masks are reusable and therefore an eco-friendly alternative to disposable masks. It’s important to remember to wash your masks after each use to keep them as clean as possible. Another important step is to wash your hands after touching your used mask.
In the interim before a cloth mask arrives, a homemade mask can do the trick. While perhaps not as effective, a fabric face covering of any kind can help to reduce large virus-ridden particles from spreading through the air.
With many how-to guides surfacing on the internet, you don’t have to be too creatively-inclined to put together your own makeshift mask. Ideally, this mask should include a pocket for a removable filter to increase its effectiveness. Otherwise, a scarf or similar could suffice in times of need.
Think of it as an exciting challenge. What kind of mask can you create with the materials in your home?