By: Caitlin McLafferty
One of the most essential tools to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus is a mask. Many coronavirus patients show no symptoms of the virus – however, they are still able to infect others. A mask helps reduce the spread of the corona virus across communities and can help protect those we love most. The Red Cross also encourages mask-wearing as a way to slow the spread of COVID-19.
In a July 14 press release, Center for Disease Control (CDC) Director Dr. Robert R. Redfield stated, “Cloth face coverings are one of the most powerful weapons we have to slow and stop the spread of the virus – particularly when used universally within a community setting. All Americans have a responsibility to protect themselves, their families, and their communities.”
Dr. Redfield’s statement is supported by previous studies from the SARS outbreak. “Universal Masking to Prevent SARS COVID 2 Transmission-The Time Is Now,” published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, reported that, “the more individuals wear cloth face coverings in public places where they may be close together, the more the entire community is protected.”
The evidence for wearing a mask is clear, but for some there is some confusion on what type of mask is recommended.
In the clinical setting, N95 respirators are used for healthcare providers to treat coronavirus patients. Surgical masks are disposable and filter large particles, but are not as tight fitting as N95 masks, which filter 95% of large particles.
In community settings, cloth masks are recommended since they stop the virus from spreading to others through droplets. Therefore, a mask should be worn to cover one’s nose and mouth. When the mask is not covering both the nose and the mouth, the mask cannot serve as a barrier to prevent droplets from spreading. Masks should consist of multiple layers to help filter droplets and particles. According to The University of Pennsylvania’s Environmental Health and Radiation Safety website, masks that have valves are not recommended since the mask does not prevent air from escaping the mask, hence defeating the purpose of wearing a mask.
It is not recommended to touch a mask while it is being worn, and if a mask needs to be touched, hands should be washed before and after adjustment. The Mayo Clinic recommends washing a mask with soap and water or even in the washing machine.
Together through social distancing, frequent hand washing, and cloth masks can drastically reduce community infection rates. The CDC, governor’s offices across the U.S., well-known research universities, and leading hospitals are constantly updating their sites with the latest information. By staying updated on leading information, everyone can do their part to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.