MASK CONFUSION: Let’s be clear about best practices
If you were asked to name three safety measures to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus, most likely at the forefront would be wash your hands, social distance and wear your mask. You know when to wash your hands. You know when to social distance. But do you know when to wear your mask? Is it recommended for only certain situations? When a person is feeling fine? Or was infected? Or when feeling ill? It seems there is a bit of “mask confusion.”
Basically the need to wear a mask anytime is almost certain, but to address some specific concerns and rumors as to “on or off,” let’s review frequently asked questions and uncertainties regarding wearing your mask.
No symptoms? Wear your mask. A recent study found that 70 percent of the COVID infection spread in 2020 was generated by adults ages 20 to 49. This is the age group that typically doesn’t show the symptoms of having the virus — are asymptomatic — but have the virus which can be easily spread through their social circles, then unknowingly infecting older family members and friends.
Also, in the early days of the pandemic it was believed that only older people, especially those with preexisting conditions, were at risk to be infected. It wasn’t realized until months later that younger people could get infected and without any symptoms contribute significantly to the spread.
So mask up, regardless of how you feel.
Negative test results? Wear your mask! You can test negative and still have COVID, especially if tested too early after exposure and not enough virus is collected, therefore giving a false sense of security and giving additional opportunity for infection.
Have symptoms? Wear your mask, and quarantine. That means isolating yourself. Do not have guests over. If you feel sick, have mild symptoms and live with others, wear your mask to protect them. If you isolate from people within your household, wear your mask if you leave your area and if anyone comes into your area. Be sure your visitor is masked.
Been exposed to COVID? Wear your mask, and ditto to the above. Had COVID? Wear your mask. Having had COVID gives some immunity for some amount of time for most people, but how long the immunity lasts can vary. The immunity may fade within weeks or months. And you can be reinfected more than once, and could be reinfected and not know it, therefore spreading the virus to others. Additionally, new strains may cause increased spread and be reasons for reinfections.
Got the vaccine? Wear your mask. Whether you got one or two shots, you’re not really ready to let your guard down. The vaccine takes time to kick in and, though highly effective, it is not 100-percent protective. You may still be able to spread infection.
Going for a ride? Wear your mask. Unless you are sharing a ride with a member of your household, everyone in the vehicle should mask up. A recent study advises rolling down the windows to improve air circulation and, if you are a passenger, it suggests sitting in the back seat and opening the window far from you.
Going outside? Wear your mask. If you cannot maintain a suitable distance between yourself and someone outside your household, such as taking a walk on a sidewalk, wear your mask. If you are taking a walk by yourself or with someone who lives with you, your mask is optional, although it is good to take it along.
And if you attend any gathering inside or out with people who don’t live with you, wear your mask, limit the size of the gathering and keep your distance.
Wearing your mask is like wearing your seatbelt — if it isn’t worn correctly, it isn’t going to serve its purpose.
Wear your mask so it covers both your mouth and your nose, fits snugly and comfortably, is secured by loops or ties and allows unrestrained breathing. Double masking — wearing a cloth mask over a surgical mask — has proven to be over 95 percent effective in preventing the spread of air borne particles.
Your best protection?
Take precautions as if you have COVID and everyone else does, too. Together, Let’s end COVID!
Chris Smith of Muncy was a prevention education/highway safety specialist for over 35 years and is a member of Let’s End COVID!, a group of people in Northcentral PA working to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic through education, outreach and mitigation.