June 12, 2020

Who would have thought four months ago that masks would create such a stir? Today they’re a fashion statement, a political statement, a requirement for admission to events and businesses, and, of course, a commodity. The media is full of contradictions, but the official guidelines have recently become more consistent. Still, when and whether to wear them remains a judgement call.

Centers for Disease Control (CDC): Recommends wearing a cloth mask in public settings where social distancing is not consistent, especially in areas of high community transmission. They emphasize social distancing (6 feet) and then add that homemade masks can be added as “an additional voluntary public health measure.” (Italics are mine). The CDC states that you wear the mask to protect others. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/testing/index.html

Johns Hopkins: Emphasizes that the most effective measures are handwashing and social distancing (6 feet). Recommends a mask if social distancing cannot be maintained. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/coronavirus/coronavirus-face-masks-what-you-need-to-know

The World Health Organization (WHO) used to recommend wearing a mask if you were sick or were caring for someone who was sick. On Friday, June 5, they modified this to recommending a cloth mask if you are in an area where COVID-19 is actively spreading or if social distancing (1 meter or 3.2 feet) isn’t possible. The WHO states that you wear a mask to protect yourself from infection as well as to protect others from you. https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public

All three sources prioritize handwashing and social distancing. Then masks, if social distancing isn’t possible. Unless you are in a healthcare setting, this makes it a judgement call in my opinion. There is no longer any requirement about the type of mask to be worn, so if you do wear one whether you choose homemade or N95 is also up to you. The experts do agree that, once worn, the mask itself is infectious material which should be handled by the elastic holders only and discarded or washed after each use. Reusable masks for home use are usually washable.

If you’re looking for a mask, remember that news articles or ads for masks often quote safety data from studies, without specifying what kind of mask they are talking about and what they are comparing. For example an article from NBC New York (link below): “A study published last week in The Lancet found that without a mask, social distancing or any other preventive measures, the risk of transmitting the coronavirus is 17.4%, but with a mask or respirator, it’s only 3.1%.” (See NBC New York below). First of all, the kind of mask is not specified. Secondly, the sentence compares wearing a mask to doing absolutely nothing. The study itself may be totally valid, but the excerpt in a news article oversimplifies the information.

When you do wear a mask, you will find an increasing number of choices. I’ve seen ads for masks that reduce sweating, breathe easier, are adapted for exercise, or match your outfit. Some have elastic handles that go around your ears, some are stretchy scarves that go over your head, and some are bandannas that tie on the back of your neck. My favorites are the clear ones.

Clear masks have been in the news recently as a communication aid for people who are deaf and rely on reading lips. They also can be used to help in teaching people languages or in teaching children how to read. When pronunciation is critical you need to see the lips. One company that makes them is Safe ‘N’ Clear of North Carolina https://safenclear.com/. Another is https://www.theclearmask.com/ . Or for a diy version look at https://www.hsdc.org/accessible-deaf-friendly-face-mask/ Here is why I like the idea:

Because people can see you smile.

So I end with a question and a plea. Why have we forgotten how crucial facial expression is? Last year I saw so many articles about the importance of touch and hugs and smiles to the human spirit. We reach out to each other with our hands, our body language, and our facial expressions. It’s part of how we gain trust, how we feel we are part of a community. Empathy can strengthen our immune system and reduce our pain. I don’t see these articles any more. But the truth in them hasn’t gone away.

Which is why I was happy to see this one “Coronavirus has stolen our most meaningful ways to connect,” about facial expression, touch, and social connection. https://www.cnn.com/interactive/2020/06/world/coronavirus-body-language-wellness/

Wearing a mask is a judgement call these days, but it is not one to be taken lightly, thinking it can’t do any harm. Consider it carefully. The world needs your smile.

Today’s Notable Headlines

“Face masks with windows mean more than smiles to deaf people,” ABC News, June 12, 2020. https://abcnews.go.com/Lifestyle/wireStory/face-masks-windows-smiles-deaf-people-71212844

“Coronavirus has stolen our most meaningful ways to connect,” by Bianca Nobilio CNN, June 10, 2020.https://www.cnn.com/interactive/2020/06/world/coronavirus-body-language-wellness/

“WHO reverses position on face masks as coronavirus cases climb,” New York Post, June 6, 2020. https://nypost.com/2020/06/06/who-reverses-position-on-face-masks-as-coronavirus-cases-climb/

“Which Movies Will Audiences Deem “Mask Worthy”? Studios Strategize as Theaters Plan to Reopen'” The Hollywood Reporter, June 12, 2020. https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/movies-will-audiences-deem-mask-worthy-studios-strategize-as-theaters-plan-reopen-1297700

“Under Armour Created a New Face Mask for Exercising — But Will It Work?” NBC New York, June 12, 2020. https://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/coronavirus/under-armour-created-a-new-face-mask-for-exercising-but-will-it-work/2459252/

Research Articles:

“Physical distancing, face masks, and eye protection to prevent person-to-person transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19: a systematic review and meta-analysis,” Lancet, June 2, 2020. https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rspa.2020.0376

“A modelling framework to assess the likely effectiveness of facemasks in combination with ‘lock-down’ in managing the COVID-19 pandemic,” Proceedings of the Royal Society, June 10, 2020. https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rspa.2020.0376

Why am I doing this?

The coronavirus pandemic will be indelibly written on our memories just as the Great Depression or the Battle of Britain left their mark on past generations. It is my intention to journal the events of these days from three perspectives: as a retired medical technologist, a historian (Ph.D., 2014), and an ordinary person living through an extraordinary crisis.

You are on History’s Edge.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s