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Should You Wear A Face Mask Every Time You Go Out?

Have you been out lately? If so, you have probably noticed that some people are being careful. But many others do not wear a face mask. How risky is that?
Should You Wear A Face Mask Every Time You Go Out?
A brunette woman puts on her left hand a blue medical disposable glove. Both hands in gloves. Girl wears a protective mask. A piercing glance at the camera. Remedies for viral infection.

We are surprised by the number of people who do not wear a face mask in public. Initially, the CDC seemed reluctant to tell U.S. citizens to wear a face mask.

On February 29, 2020, the Surgeon General, Dr. Jerome Adams, even went so far as to Tweet:

“Seriously people—STOP BUYING MASKS! They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus…”

A few days later he went on to say:

“You can increase your risk of getting it by wearing a mask if you are not a health care provider.” 

Seriously? You can increase your risk of catching COVID-19 if you wear a face mask? 

The CDC Flip-Flop: WEAR a Face Mask!

An article on the CDC website dated April 3, 2020 states: 

“CDC continues to study the spread and effects of the novel coronavirus across the United States.  We now know from recent studies that a significant portion of individuals with coronavirus lack symptoms (“asymptomatic”) and that even those who eventually develop symptoms (“pre-symptomatic”) can transmit the virus to others before showing symptoms.  This means that the virus can spread between people interacting in close proximity—for example, speaking, coughing, or sneezing—even if those people are not exhibiting symptoms.  In light of this new evidence, CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies) especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.”

Accompanying this message is a video from the surgeon general himself.

He introduces it this way: 

“Here’s how you can make your own face covering in a few easy steps with items you can find around the house like an old scarf, a bandanna or a hand towel, or you can make a face covering out of an old T-shirt.”

Face Coverings vs. High-Quality Face Masks?

One of the reasons that Dr. Adams is now so enthusiastic about demonstrating how people can make DIY face coverings is that he does not want them buying high-quality face masks that might be needed by health professionals.

We completely get that. First responders, nurses, doctors and respiratory therapists must have access to the best face masks to protect themselves from the coronavirus! By now, though, we would have expected a lot more N95 face masks would be available for the public at large. This reader wants to make mask wearing mandatory:

Why Do Sick Kids Wear A Face Mask?

Q. I was skeptical of CDC’s initial recommendation not to wear masks. They claimed that even if you did wear one, it would not protect you but might protect those around you if you were shedding the virus.

Those statements never made sense to me. If masks don’t protect the wearer from infection, why do medical personnel wear them in the presence of those who are ill?

We visited St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital a few years ago. The little children who had been stricken with cancer but were well enough to play were riding tricycles and running up and down the halls. All of them were wearing masks.

I’m pretty sure it wasn’t so the rest of us would be safe from the kids’ infections. It was so the children, whose immune systems were compromised because of their chemo treatments, would be protected from illnesses that visitors might bring into the facility.

To me, that is proof that masks work to protect the wearer as well as those around him/her. Mask-wearing should be mandatory until the COVID-19 epidemic has run its course.

Why Should You Wear A Face Mask?

A. We certainly agree that masks make sense when there is a respiratory infection raging. In countries such as Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and China, people have long worn face masks during flu season, both in self-interest and as a civic duty. There, wearing a mask tells people you behave responsibly.

We found a thoughtful article by Dr. Erin Bromage especially useful in this regard. His PhD is in microbiology and immunology from James Cook University, Australia. He teaches about infectious diseases at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth. His post is titled:

The Risks – Know Them – Avoid Them

Here are some of Dr. Bromage’s observations:

“Ignoring the terrible outbreaks in nursing homes, we find that the biggest outbreaks are in prisons, religious ceremonies, and workplaces, such as meat packing facilities and call centers. Any environment that is enclosed, with poor air circulation and high density of people, spells trouble.”

Dr. Bromage has analyzed viral particles in respiratory droplets:

“Speaking increases the release of respiratory droplets about 10 fold; ~200 copies of virus per minute. Again, assuming every virus is inhaled, it would take ~5 minutes of speaking face-to-face to receive the required dose.”

He analyzes the airflow at a restaurant in Guangzhou, China and describes why some people got sick and others didn’t. We have also written about this research at this link.

Dr. Bromage concludes:

“Even if you are gung-ho for reopening and resuming business as usual, do your part and wear a mask to reduce what you release into the environment. It will help everyone, including your own business.”

One Person Can Spread a LOT of Virus!

There has been a slight spike in coronavirus cases in South Korea. They have been linked to nightclubs. Here is a news report about how one man spread the infection to many others:

“All bars in Seoul have been ordered to close until further notice after a spike in coronavirus cases linked to nightclubs in the South Korean capital.

“A spike in cases: The order follows a surge in cases connected with nightclubs in Itaewon, a popular nightlife district in Seoul.

“On Thursday, a 29-year-old man from the city of Yongin — on the outskirts of Seoul — tested positive for the virus. The person visited several clubs in Itaewon on the night of May 1 and the early hours of May 2, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).

“Since then, 40 others believed to be connected to the case have tested positive.”

It looks like one man may have infected 40 people in one evening out on the town. Now, Korean public health authorities are trying to track down nearly 2,000 people who “were listed on the registry books of the three clubs the 29-year-old visited.” The last time I checked, in most states people in the U.S. don’t have to sign a “registry book” if they enter a nightclub or a bar. We would have a hard time tracking and tracing here the way they can in South Korea.

Where Are High-Quality Face Masks?

How can you wear a face mask if high-quality masks are hard to come by? We find it truly astonishing that both health professionals and the public are still facing challenges locating N95 face masks. This article reveals some disappointing news about U.S. face mask manufacturing.

In the early days of the pandemic, the U.S. government turned down an offer to manufacture millions of N95 masks in America

We Think You Should Wear A Face Mask

We wish people who go out in public would wear a high-quality face mask to protect themselves and those they get close to. That is especially important in pharmacies, supermarkets, places of worship, offices and other locations where people congregate.

This virus is highly transmissible. Even a good face mask is not perfect protection. If it helps even just a bit, though, we think it is worth the effort.

Of course, hand washing and maintaining physical distance are also important. Until we have effective drug treatments or vaccines against COVID-19, we should use these tools to stay as safe as possible.

Do You Think People Should Wear A Face Mask?

Please share your thoughts in the comment section below. Here are just a few comments from other articles we have written on this topic.

Sondra says that she will wear a face mask for awhile yet:

“I’ve been telling folks this is not going away soon. The 1918 Spanish flu mutated, and that fall was the worst as far as infection and death. Between 1918 and 1920 more than 50 million people died around the world. I don’t go out without my mask, sanitizer, disinfectant wipes and alcohol.”

Tierra adds this message:

“My emphasis is regarding essential venues, mainly grocery stores and pharmacies. While social distancing is desired at checkout lanes, it doesn’t prevent the errant cough, sneeze, or conversation as unmasked shoppers move throughout the store, standing over or near the merchandise where their droplets are certain to land.

“This is why all should be required to ‘err on the side of caution’ in these venues until those curves become flatlines. Otherwise, the much-needed economic recovery will fail because we have failed to protect one another’s health under such precarious circumstance.

“Manners, informed by the science of viral contagion, should never be optional, nor should the wearing of masks in these venues essential to everyone.”

Maggie asks a great question:

“A question I have is: with all medical personnel wearing face mask of all types to protect them and also the patients, why are so many of the medical personnel getting infected? We all are told to wear masks when we go out, yet these people work with a mask on and still are getting this coronavirus.”

Nurse Teresa provides the last word:

“I’ve been singing this from the rooftops ever since COVID-19 came on the scene. In nursing school we studied Typhoid Mary. We also learned that measles is very contagious BEFORE the rash develops. People: PLEASE wear a mask of some kind — and the mask MUST cover your NOSE & MOUTH!”

Actually, you get the last word. Please add your two cents in the comment section below.

If you disagree and think that you do not need to wear a face mask in public, please tell us how you reached that conclusion. We are open to all perspectives as long as we can carry on a civil discourse and be respectful of other people’s comments.

If you found this article of interest, please share it with friends, family, neighbors and co-workers by clicking on one of the icons at the top of the post. Thanks for spreading the word.

We also encourage you to listen to our interview with the “coronavirus hunter,” Dr. Ralph Baric. This was one of our best interviews ever and will provide you with information you have not heard before about the transmission of SARS-2. Here is a link.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
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