Masks & Covid-19: Everything You Need to Know
By Sara Butler
COVID-19 is changing the world in a variety of ways and there is a lot of information to consume to remain updated about coronavirus. One of the biggest questions people seem to have these days is whether masks should be worn when you have to go out. The answer isn’t as simple as it may seem, but here’s some of the most current information necessary to decide if wearing a mask in public is something you should do to reduce your chances of getting sick.
What the Experts Say
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has said that the idea of everyday folks wearing masks outside of a healthcare setting is starting to be a hot topic of discussion in the world of infectious disease. That’s because there’s new data that shows people who may not yet be displaying symptoms are spreading coronavirus in the community more than experts may have previously suspected.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have issued the opinion that healthy people don’t need masks unless they’re caring for someone who is sick. Part of their reasoning seems to stem from the fact that there is a shortage of masks for healthcare workers on the frontline of this pandemic. Masks worn by healthy people take away from the supply of masks available to healthcare workers. And the World Health Organization still doesn’t endorse wearing a facemask in public, either.
Americans are still waiting for the public health specialists to come to a consensus on whether people should begin wearing masks in public, so the best you can do is to gather the facts and decide if you should wear a mask to protect yourself or not. Some common sense advice might apply though: what could it hurt?
What You Need to Know
Here’s what is known about COVID-19 so far: Infected people who aren’t displaying symptoms can spread the virus and if everyone were to wear a mask in public, then it could help to stop the spread.
Anyone who is infected with the virus, whether showing symptoms or not, can spew out tiny particles or droplets in the air as they cough, sneeze, or even talk. Health officials think that this is how the virus is transmitted and why it’s recommended people stay at least six feet apart and avoid touching their faces.
The trick is that not all masks offer the same amount of protection. In relation to the COVID-19 outbreak, there are three types of masks:
Fabric and homemade masks -- There is a wide range of quality when it comes to these masks since they’re made with different materials. They can offer some protection against large droplets in the air but it’s unknown just how effective they are. They do not protect against small particles. The CDC is only recommending that people wear these type of masks as a last resort, but that advice can change, especially if they recommend the public at large begin wearing masks to reduce transmission.
- Surgical masks -- Approved by the FDA to protect the wearer against large droplets. They’re more porous than the respirators and fit much looser. They do not protect against small particles in the air. Right now, these are recommended for healthcare workers, people who are sick, and caregivers because there is also a shortage of these masks available.
- Respirators -- These are the N95 masks you've likely read about. They’re vigorously lab-tested and approved by the government to protect someone from up to 95 percent of the particles in the air. They’re the most protective masks you can wear and fit securely to the face so particles can’t slip into the sides. Healthcare workers are the only ones recommended to wear these masks because there is a mass shortage of these masks.
What’s important to point out about wearing masks is that for everyday people wearing homemade, fabric, or even surgical masks, they’re only going to help reduce transmission if everyone begins to wear them. Simply wearing them now out in public isn’t going to mean you have your normal life back without the fear of getting sick.
Where to Buy Masks
If you decide to begin wearing facemasks in public to help reduce the chances of getting sick, the next hurdle is where to find them. There’s a shortage of masks right now, so you may have to go on a bit of a treasure hunt online to find them. A few places you may want to try include:
- Hardware stores
- Office supply stores
- Home improvement stores
The best thing you can do to avoid getting sick is to stay home. When you do go out, whether it’s in a facemask or not, practice appropriate social distancing. Also, avoid touching your face and wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water. Keep your eyes and ears open for changing recommendations when it comes to facemasks in public, too.
We all have to do our part to keep ourselves and our communities healthy. Remember -- we’re all in this together!
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