It seems as though we are all over the place when it comes to wearing masks, but one thing we can agree on is they aren't enjoyable to wear. We do, however, need to cover the importance of wearing one, as there are mixed messages and misinformation out there. Aside from being a healthcare provider who has been trained in pathogens and health standard precautions, I have recently been focusing on pollution and epidemiology in college which has helped me delve into the deeper scientific realms of health issues. I will be providing credible links for reference. We can't let politics get in the way of a health crisis. We need to be patient and understanding of the experts who are still uncovering the situation themselves. So let's break it down into the various reasons as to why wearing a mask matters...
We don't fully know this virus yet. It's new and mysterious with emerging nuances including symptoms and mutations. We don't even know for certain how it came to be. Even in the beginning awareness, the experts weren't sure if masks were needed. It is still so early in the game to know what is best- wearing a mask, herd immunity, who all it can affect, how long antibodies last, etc. Let's respect the scientists who are tirelessly studying the virus, putting aside any judgment or skepticism. Now we understand that this virus can be spread by aerosol particles from our mouths and noses that can travel through the air, so in a sense it is airborne. It can be carried even through breathing and speaking. Even a 6-foot distance may be an underestimate, according to this scholarly article.
This virus has shown us so far that it is nothing like a flu virus or anything we've seen. It has affected people very differently and has shown to be more fatal, especially for those who are older or have underlying conditions. It can be very unpredictable, though. There have plenty of healthy adults who have passed away from the virus, yet in general children tend to have a stronger resistance to it. Statistical studies including this one have also shown that colored and ethnic communities who are also on Medicare/Medicaid are most affected. This is a saddening aspect when it comes to health issues and air pollution in general. This scholarly article from the National Institute of Health is hard-hitting, stating that Covid-19 (SARS-CoV-2) is nothing to take lightly or compare to anything else.
Anyone can be asymptotic, meaning they can carry the virus with mild to no symptoms present. Research has also shown that being asymptomatic may still cause damage to the lungs and other organs. This is still a puzzling piece, but this study by Nature Medicine assesses the various possibilities of an asymptomatic infection. Being asymptomatic also means that you can unkowningly pass the virus to others, especially those who have underlying conditions or in the elderly population.
The mask is to protect others, not yourself, from catching the virus. The shutdowns, physical distancing and mask wearing has shown us that these precautions help slow the spread of the virus. This does not guarantee prevention of the spread. The cloth masks we are asked to wear as citizens and patrons only minimize the risk, but it's still better than nothing. N-95 masks are the best for coverage, however these, along with surgical masks, should be saved for frontline workers whose demands and risks are higher. As a healthcare practitioner, I am required to wear disposable surgical masks when working with clients.
MYTH 1: Masks cause bacteria to build up inside. While not all bacteria is bad, it is not doing any harm for you with proper wear and use. Understanding the science behind quality-made cloth masks as well as washing them frequently can help reduce bacteria collection. This NBC article cites information provided from CDC, WHO and a biotechnology company that studies and designs PPE as well as suggestions for the best antimicrobial masks.
MYTH 2: It can cause oxygen deprivation. Ok, it is true that it can cause a minute shortage of oxygen intake and heighten the carbon dioxide intake, but again at a very minimal amount. Only in very rare situations is this a bad thing. Read this article for more info. Also, those who have conditions where wearing a mask is not recommended are encouraged to avoid public places at this point as it is. It is also not good to wear a mask for a long period of time when performing any physical exertion, This is one reason I chose to limit my massage sessions to 60 minutes, along with reduction of potential exposure to the virus. As CDC states here based on several studies, the combination of physical distancing and mask wearing is where we benefit in slowing the spread. Slowing down the spread helps healthcare workers manage demand, as well as helping give scientific experts the opportunity to continue conducting studies to fully understand the virus and any possible treatments/vaccines. This could take a while. The more patient and understanding we are by following the guidelines, the sooner we can see a light at the end of the tunnel.
Fact 1- viruses do not ever just disappear. They are maintained somehow. Viruses will continue to wreak havoc in regions of the world that do not have the best healthcare resources as well as poor air quality.
Fact 2- Wearing your mask in the car unless you are traveling with someone outside of your home or in other areas where physical distancing serves no benefit.
Fact 3- People do not die from the virus itself. The deaths are caused by complications of the virus, including heart and respiratory issues.
(If you are concerned of minimal oxygen deprivation, practice some deep breathing exercises after wearing the mask.)
Q: Why are we slowing the spread and not welcoming herd immunity? See Reason 1, 2 and 3.
Thank you for reading my blog about this topic and hope you find it valuable. Please share with others on the importance of mask wearing.