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The Mask Debate Solved: If You Have One, Wear It; When All of Our First Responders Have Them, Buy One

Unsplash | Ani Kolleshi
By Robert Safir

There has been a lot of debating about masks. Should you wear one or not? From the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the "official" word has been ‘no.’ Now the CDC and the coronavirus task for are reconsidering their position. So which is it - mask, or no mask?

It's not surprising that there might be contradictory information when you're trying to deal with a pandemic. It's even more confusing when the information is coming from a variety of reliable sources. So let's sort through it.

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How the Virus Spreads

Map showing virus spead
Unsplash | Patrick Assalé

One way the COVID-19 virus spreads is by respiratory droplets that are created when an infected person coughs or sneezes. But droplets can also be formed by taking, singing, laughing, or exhaling. It is recommended that people stay six feet apart so that these droplets don’t land on the mouths or noses of people nearby – and those droplets can be inhaled into a person’s lungs.

Droplets also can land on surfaces and spread when another person touches that surface. If they touch their eyes, nose, or mouth, the situation becomes dangerous as this person is now very likely to get infected. You also hear a lot about frequent hand washing and using hand sanitizers which ideally would prevent the face-touching from transferring the infection.

Should You or Shouldn't You?

CDC logo
Wikimedia | https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:CDC_logo_electronic_color_name.jpg

According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, officials at CDC are discussing the mask debate and reviewing the previous decision recommending the people do not wear masks.

The World Health Organization previously recommended wearing a mask only if you are taking care of someone who is sick. But a growing number of health experts are now saying people should wear masks to help prevent the spread of the virus.

The idea of recommending broad use of masks in the United States is under "very active discussion" at the White House, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, adding that the White House Task Force will be discussing it Tuesday.

What Kind of Mask?

N-95 medical mask
Wikimedia | https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:3M_N95_Particulate_Respirator.JPG

Regarding what type of mask to wear, Dr. James Phillips, a medical analyst for CNN said of the N95 medical masks that everyone mentions, "There's not any great proof that that's going to make a big difference. Those are used to prevent getting the disease from health care workers that are in close proximity to patients with it," Phillips said.

He also added that surgical masks or cloth masks are different, saying that those are designed to keep the droplets from coming out of your own mouth and nose onto other people, spreading the virus. He said that it makes sense that if everyone was wearing a mask “as sort of a shield over their face to prevent droplets from getting out into the air, that it would limit the transmission of the virus."

Solving the Puzzle

Health care workers with masks
Gettyimages | Halfpoint

Health experts were quick to point out at the beginning of the pandemic that masks don’t do any good when trying to protect against the coronavirus or spreading it. They actively discouraged people from buying and using the masks. However, that is where a disconnect with reality started to set in with some observers.

If the masks aren’t of any use to you, why are they of use to doctors, nurses, and first responders? Does a mask work for some people but not for others? Of course not. The real reason that many people were suspicious of was that they wanted to preserve as many masks as possible for the professionals. That makes a lot more sense.

And a Word of Caution from Dr. Fauci

Dr. Anthony Fauci
Wikimedia | https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Anthony_S._Fauci,_M.D.,_NIAID_Director_(26759498706).jpg

Finally, on Tuesday, March 31, 2020, Dr. Fauci addressed this issue straight on. "The thing that has inhibited that a bit is to make sure we don't take away the supply of masks from the health care workers who need them," Fauci said. "But when we get in a situation where we have enough masks, I believe there will be some very serious consideration about more broadening this recommendation of using masks. We're not there yet, but I think we're close to coming to some determination.

"Because if, in fact, a person who may or may not be infected wants to prevent infecting somebody else, the best way to do that is with a mask. Perhaps that's the way to go."

Fauci warned, "You don't want to take masks away from the health care providers who are in a real and present danger of getting infected. That would be the worst thing we do. If we have them covered, then you could look back and say maybe we need to broaden this."

So there you have it. It’s very simple. If you already have a mask of your own, wear it. When all of our doctors, nurses, and first responders have a mask (and you don’t), go ahead and buy one. And use it.

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