Should you wear a facemask?
The more you hear and read about masks, the more confusing it sounds. It has been confusing for a while. The most well-known doctor in the United States, Anthony Fauci, does not wear a mask when he stands next to the President. Meanwhile, on TV we see people in China all wearing masks.
I’ve spent a number of hours reading and thinking about COVID-19, the shortage of masks and scientific controversies about masks. We might be getting a directive about the use of mask soon. Until then, the following is a why, who, what, where and when of wearing a mask.
One purpose of a facemask is to help protect you from getting COVID-19 from someone else. The other is to keep you from giving COVID-19 to someone else. This is especially important because you can spread the disease when you don’t know you have it.
If you feel sick with a “cold” or “flu”, call the doctor or a COVID-19 Hotline right away. Simply wearing a mask when you feel sick is not enough to keep you from making someone else sick.
WHO should wear a mask?
It is very important for some people to wear a mask and not as important for other people. This is a point scale that I came up with.
1) On a 0-2 point scale, is Covid-19 a major problem in your community?
0=In remote parts of the country where there are few reported Covid-19 cases
1=A place like Honolulu which has a dense population and an increasing number of cases
2=Cities such as New York City with a large number of cases
2) On a 0-2 point scale, how much contact do you have with people?
0=You and the people at your home rarely have close contact with anyone else
1=You have occasional contacts with people during the week during visits, outings and errands
2=You have frequent contact with other people because you have a role such as a grocery clerk
3) On a 0-2 point scale, how often are you around people who are frail, elderly or ill?
1=Occasionally, maybe once a week
2=Frequently, more than once a week
4) Are you frail, elderly or chronically ill?
Add up the points. If you have 3 or more points, seriously consider using a mask. This is not a perfect scale. It does not answer every question and there is no clear consensus. With this scoring system, my wife does not need a mask but I do because I am around patients frequently.
It is frequently difficult and not always necessary to keep a mask on people who are frail, confused or chronically ill. Even in hospital settings patients seldom wear masks. Instead, staff and caregivers wear masks.
WHAT kind of mask should you use?
Masks vary in the amount of protection provided. Most experts agree that any mask is better than no mask. Because there is a shortage of masks, use the mask that is appropriate for you:
- A fabric mask: Use this if you are in the general public for activities such as going to the store or for short interactions with other people.
- A medical/surgical/ “doctors” mask: Use this if you are seeing people throughout the day or if you are providing hands-on caregiving.
- A “N95” mask: Use this if you are in contact with a person who may have Covid-19 or other contagious flu-like disease. These masks are currently in short supply and should only be used when needed.
- Face Shields are not meant for use outside healthcare settings and are only required under special circumstances.
WHERE should you use a mask?
Generally, you do not need to use a mask at home unless you are providing hands-on care to another person or you are having visitors. Outside the house, use the mask whenever people are close by.
WHEN should you use a mask?
Wear your mask when you are around people you don’t live with. Also wear a mask when you are providing hands-on care to another person.
Most people do not need to wear a mask all day long. You cannot wear a mask and eat. Take it off when you are not around other people. However, it is important to avoid touching the mask or taking it on/off frequently.
Remember that wearing a mask does not provide total protection: Practicing social distancing and frequent handwashing are essential.
Cleaning your mask
A cloth mask should be washed daily with soap and water if used.
Surgical/medical masks are not meant to be washed or reused. Washing can degrade them. Surgical/medical masks should not be used for more than a day at most.
Making fabric masks
This website is recommended for instructions on how to make a mask.
There is a shortage of elastic and this site shows how to make masks without using elastic.
There is a great need for masks. In the weeks ahead, serious shortages can occur not only in hospitals and clinics but also in nursing homes and senior living communities. Consider contributing there. In addition, share masks with people who need them.
I’ll continue to send out messages. Please feel free to email me with general questions. I’m here to support you. My next message will be:
“Don’t touch that!!”
The Washington Post reports: