By: ISABELLA CHECHELE
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic health and safety is a top concern. Among the majority of the population, protecting ourselves and slowing the spread of the virus is now more important than ever. Some of the most commonly recommended practices to do so include social distancing when possible, staying six feet apart from others, washing your hands, and wearing a face mask in public spaces.
However, not everyone has agreed to keep up with these requests. Most notably, wearing a mask has been debated against. Many still refuse to wear one when in public, even in places where keeping social distance is not possible. There have been many different arguments made against mask-wearing, but are any of them within good reason? According to UC San Francisco epidemiologist George Rutherford, MD, and infectious disease specialist Peter Chin-Hong, MD, they are in fact, not.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization originally did not recommend the use of masks, but have since switched to recommending them. The CDC claims their original guidelines were written during a time that lacked severely in testing. Rutherford states that since N95s and surgical masks are being reserved specifically for healthcare workers, there wasn’t a push to recommend face coverings. Even so, he admits, “We should have told people to wear cloth masks right off the bat,” as an alternative to the former options, rather than downplaying the virus. “We were getting a false sense of security,” Chin-Hong noted.
A common myth is that those who do not display symptoms of COVID-19 don’t need to wear a mask. As a matter of fact, pre-symptomatic and asymptomatic cases exist-in which those infected do not show symptoms at first, or with asymptomatic cases, don’t show symptoms at all. In addition, both types have been found to be even more common than symptomatic ones, and all three types are transmitted the same way.
Another false belief, not just of those who refuse to wear a mask, is that the main purpose of a mask is to protect the wearer from being infected. In reality, the opposite is true; it protects those around you. Even if you’re not at high risk for getting the virus, you could still very well be a carrier, so a mask is the safest way to go. Wearing a mask enables what is known as source control, which helps contain respiratory droplets. The mask acts as a barrier in front of the mouth, blocking droplets from traveling through the air and reaching other people whenever talking, breathing, coughing or sneezing.
A video experiment published in the New England Journal of Medicine displayed the rate of respiratory droplets exiting the mouth when a simple phrase was spoken. Without anything blocking the mouth, when the phrase “Stay healthy” was spoken, numerous droplets in sizes anywhere from 20 to 500 micrometers were produced. On the other hand, when a damp washcloth was used to cover the mouth, the number of droplets entering the air was reduced to almost zero. With the usage of a mask, these same results are achievable.
Wearing a mask is essential in protecting those around the wearer. For every person who makes the choice to protect others, at least one less person will be at risk of infection. And if everyone chooses to protect each other, safety will be ensured for all, and we can overcome this pandemic.