September 10, 2020
By Hoo Feng Choo, MD
Infectious Diseases Department
Cheyenne Regional Health System
Note: This article was originally published in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle on August 16, 2020, and is reprinted here with permission.
I am often asked when schools might open safely, when sports might be played again and when we can “just get back to normal.” My answer is that we can reach these goals sooner if together—and only together—we work to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. No one lives in a bubble, and every interaction is a possible risk for infection. To reduce that risk, it’s vital that we all wear facial coverings, wash our hands frequently and practice social distancing. I also want to add that even now, in the midst of a pandemic, there are still ways to enjoy life by engaging in low-risk activities such as playing tennis, hiking, swimming, walking and jogging. Above all, though, it’s vital to remember that mitigating the spread of this contagious virus rests on each of us and the actions that we take. If you truly care about the health and well-being of your family, friends and neighbors, then please wear a facial covering when out in public, wash your hands frequently and practice social distancing of six feet or more. For more details about these COVID-19 health and safety guidelines, please see the questions and answers below.
Should people wear facial coverings, and when is the appropriate time to do this?
When out in public, everyone should wear a facial covering over their mouth and nose to help mitigate the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus/ COVID-19 pandemic. Ideally, wear a facial covering when you are within six feet of someone that does not belong to your immediate household.
Is there anyone who should not wear a facial covering, and why?
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance states that everyone two years and older should wear a facial covering when out in public or around people who don’t live in their household. The exceptions are for people who have trouble breathing or are unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove a facial covering without assistance. For those who can’t wear a facial covering, social distancing of six feet or more can help offer protection.
Is wearing a facial covering “good enough” protection for people who have pre-existing health issues or who are more vulnerable if they are out in public—or are they still at risk and what are your recommendations for helping them stay safe?
Wearing a facial covering decreases the risk of transmitting the virus or getting infected. The best advice is to practice social distancing, wear a facial covering and practice good hand hygiene. For those at heightened risk, it’s also a good idea to minimize trips outside the household and for those who interact with vulnerable people to follow these three guidelines.
What about concerns that wearing a facial covering is bad for your health?
There is no scientific evidence that wearing a cloth facial covering is bad for your health. For many years, physicians, surgeons, nurses, dentists, dental hygienists and other healthcare personnel have worn face masks without experiencing any adverse health effects.
Who does a facial covering protect—the person wearing the covering or those around that person? Are there differences based on the kind of facial covering being worn?
Masks and other facial coverings protect you, as the wearer, and those who are within six feet of you. Face masks with exhaust valves or vents are not recommended since the air coming out of the valve is not filtered. This means that viral particles can escape through the valve if the person wearing the mask has COVID-19. It’s also recommended that N95 respirators be reserved for healthcare workers and first responders since the respirators are in short supply and must be properly “fit tested” before being used.
What kinds of activities cause someone to emit more respiratory particles?
Coughing or sneezing creates the most risk for releasing droplets into the air. Talking, singing and shouting can also lead to more droplets being released.
Ultimately, what is your recommendation about wearing a facial covering?
Wear a facial covering when you are in public settings or situations where you can’t stay socially distant (six feet or more) from people that do not belong to your household.