As state reopens, masking is essential
As Pennsylvania reopens, counties will begin the transition from mitigation phase red to yellow and eventually green by gradually easing stay-at-home orders and restrictions. As this happens, we all need to consider how we can continue to do our part to prevent a second wave of COVID-19 in our region. While it’s encouraging to once again leave the house, see our family and friends, and get back to work, preventative measures like wearing a facemask in public is still essential to controlling the spread.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the continued use of facemasks because although people are most contagious when they’re showing COVID-19 symptoms like fever, cough, or shortness of breath, those who are infected without symptoms — known as asymptomatic — can also spread the virus. When someone infected talks, coughs, or sneezes, it releases airborne droplets that can be inhaled by people within six feet, possibly infecting them. Those droplets also can land on surfaces and infect those who come in contact with the surface.
The CDC recommends the public wear cloth facemasks to save supplies of surgical facemasks and N-95 respirators for health care workers and others who need them. You can make your own facemask with cloth items that you already have in your home or you can buy at low cost, including fabric, bandanas, scarves, or T-shirts. Directions for making a mask are available online.
A homemade facemask should:
• Fit snugly, but comfortably, against the side of your face.
• Be secured around your ears with some sort of tie or loop.
• Include multiple layers of fabric.
• Allow you to breathe comfortably.
• Be machine washable without losing its shape.
You should wear your cloth facemask when you’re out in the public, especially in crowded places like grocery stores or pharmacies. Cloth facemasks should not be placed on young children under age 2, anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance.
While the facemask offers one layer of protection, you should still practice social distancing. Try to maintain a distance of at least six feet from other people when out in the public.
The CDC recommends other guidelines about using facemasks:
• Along with social distancing, keep up other COVID-19 prevention tactics like regular handwashing and sanitizing common surfaces.
• Wash your facemask routinely, especially after using them.
• When removing your facemask, do not touch your mouth, nose, or eyes. Wash your hands immediately after removal.
While medical experts expect COVID-19 to be a part of our lives for the foreseeable future, facemasks and other preventive measures will help slow the spread of the disease and allow us to restore some normalcy to our lives. These preventative measures including masking, handwashing, and social distancing, are essential as we work toward reopening the state. Our diligence now will go a long way to help reduce the future impacts of this disease.
Dr. Rutul Dalal is medical director of infectious diseases and chairman of Infection Prevention and Control at UPMC Susquehanna.