The Truth About Masks

Girl helps brother put on a medical mask

By Jake Wilson, MD Premium Family Care

Unfortunately, the Coronavirus still presents a challenge to our health and society. With no vaccine and no effective treatment, the most important tools in our arsenal continue to be social distancing and face masks. Judging from what I have encountered in my medical practice there still appears to be lingering questions about the usefulness and necessity of face coverings.

As we all know, the virus is mainly spread person to person in respiratory droplets. Coughing and sneezing release large amounts of these droplets, but even the simple act of breathing produces these droplets. A homemade mask is not intended to filter out the viral particles. The point of the mask is to contain the respiratory droplets that serve as the vehicle for the viral particles. A recent case report from Missouri highlights the effectiveness of masks. It described two hairstylists infected with COVID and continued to serve 139 clients despite having symptoms. Through contact tracing it has been verified that not a single one of those clients became infected. In this case, the stylist and clients both wore masks at all times.

COVID 19 is more sinister than most other respiratory infections because there is such a large percentage of infected people who never develop symptoms. According to the latest estimates from the CDC, 40% of infected people may never have any symptoms. It has also been shown that asymptomatic carriers do indeed transmit the infection. The CDC has also stated that people who do develop symptoms begin to shed viral particles 2-3 days before symptoms begin. Given this reality, at any given time nobody can be certain they are not infected. Similar to a smoker exhaling after a puff of a cigarette, it is possible that every breath contains viral particles. 

Some patients have voiced concern that wearing a face covering carries with it a risk of carbon dioxide poisoning or an actually increased risk of infection. Multiple studies have shown these concerns are unfounded. A simple face covering is uncomfortable, and for some individuals does cause feelings of claustrophobia, but a cloth mask does not decrease the oxygen content in your blood. We live in a society where our actions can have an effect on others around us, even people we do not know. It is inconvenient to stop at a traffic light and wait for it to turn green, but we do it because it would be irresponsible to endanger the lives of others simply to avoid a minor inconvenience.

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