With no vaccine in sight, experts say masks remain imperative in combatting coronavirus
The coronavirus pandemic has caused a number of changes to daily life, but none are as publicly visible as the requirement for people to wear masks to prevent the spread of the virus.
In the Safer at Home order, Summit County Public Health had masks as one of the requirements for residents and visitors. Under the order, people must wear face coverings or masks any time they are in a building open to the public or if they were outside and a 6-foot distance from others is not possible.
Nationwide, masks and face coverings have become a symbol of the pandemic, with people who believe the country should open up refusing to wear them at protests and in public. However, local doctors and officials maintain that wearing masks in public is as important to preventing the spread of the virus as any other effort.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, one primary way the virus spreads is when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks and water droplets are transmitted to another person. Those droplets can travel around 6 feet.
“A critical component to droplet precautions in the hospital setting are surgical face masks,”said Summit County environmental health specialist Seth Danner. “So, we’re using nonsurgical face masks for the public to prevent the spread of droplet transmission, which has the highest viral load.”
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Danner said people should expect to continue wearing face coverings for the foreseeable future. It may take until a vaccine is developed or the county sees a significant drop in cases for the rule to be lifted.
“If overall we start seeing that folks are able to maintain 6 feet and we’re not in community spread, that might be a good indicator,” he said. “I don’t see it relaxing anytime soon.”
By wearing a face covering, people are protecting those around them more than they are protecting themselves. Every time someone with a face covering sneezes or coughs, the likelihood of water droplets reaching another person is greatly decreased.
“It’s incredibly effective at preventing the droplet-sized particles, which are 5 to 10 micrometers, from leaving your breathing zone,” Danner said. “If two people can both prevent those droplet sizes from leaving their breathing zones, there’s, obviously, a far less chance of contracting any sort of disease.”
With the current pandemic there is a high prevalence of asymptomatic people who have the virus and are contagious. Those people may never know they have it. So Dr. Kathleen Cowie, chief medical officer at Summit Community Care Clinic, said community members should wear masks to protect each other.
“Wearing a mask yourself doesn’t necessarily protect you from getting coronavirus from another person,” Cowie said. “The mask really prevents us from giving it to other people when we don’t know that we may have the virus.”
Not all face coverings or masks are 100% preventative, however. Cowie said the more layers of fabric on a cloth face covering while it’s still breathable, the better.
“For the general public, cloth masks are generally effective,” she said. “What you want to look for is that a cloth mask has a thicker layer, not just a thin layer. Thin layers of fabric, the virus can still potentially escape from that.”
Face coverings should also cover the entirety of a person’s nose and mouth.
“The best kinds of masks are ones that fit snugly or kind of comfortably around the nose and sides of mouth and sides of the face,” Danner said.
Danner said another benefit of cloth masks is that they can be easily washed and machine dried. They should be routinely washed, depending on how often a person uses their mask, he said.
“Anytime you believe that it’s soiled or hard to breath through, or anything like that, it should be washed,” he said. “We’re really encouraging folks to get a couple on hand.”
Face coverings have a psychological effect as well as a biological one. When people see each other wearing masks in public, it sends a message of support, Cowie said.
“My wearing a mask isn’t necessarily protecting me from you, it’s protecting you from me,” she said. “By wearing a mask, I am saying ‘I care about you. You’re important.’”