The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has communicated preventive measures in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus, including regular hand-washing, physical distancing and wearing of a face covering. At the same time, widespread debate continues in the U.S. on whether wearing a face covering is essential – or even effective.
FJ Campbell, MD, Chief Medical Officer and Chief Quality Officer of Ardent Health Services, confirms five facts that support wearing a face covering to help protect yourself and others from COVID-19.
Fact 1: Face coverings can help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
A recent study published in The Lancet found that by properly wearing a mask or face covering, the risk of spreading the coronavirus drops from 17.4 percent to 3.1 percent. And with additional studies suggesting that the coronavirus can be spread by those who are unaware they are infected, the more people who wear masks the lower the potential risk of exposure.
“We must remember that a face covering or mask isn’t necessarily for the wearer,” says Dr. Campbell. “Just talking can launch thousands of small droplets which even a cloth mask can block. For a person who is unknowingly infected with the virus, not wearing a face covering could result in further spread, which ultimately makes wearing one a matter of social responsibility.”
In Japan, despite not requiring physical distancing or enforcing stay-at-home restrictions, the number of COVID-19 cases are relatively low. As of June 8, worldometers.info listed Japan as having 136 cases per one million population. In the U.S., this number soars to 6,129 per one million population for the same time period. The difference? Japan has an established culture of universal masking in place.
“The Japanese embraced wearing masks before COVID-19 because they live in densely-populated areas where infections are easily transmitted,” says Dr. Campbell. “It’s become a societal norm for Japanese people to wear masks in public places. Their low number of COVID-19 cases is another demonstration that masks are an effective, preventive measure against COVID-19.”
Fact 2: When worn properly, face coverings should always cover your nose and mouth.
Without exception, face coverings should always cover your nose and mouth. And while face covering fatigue may be real, relaxing the way you wear your mask can potentially do more harm than good.
“When worn around your neck or chin, face coverings become more of a decorative accessory,” says Dr. Campbell. “Face coverings and masks are preventive measures to contain airborne particles that can be spread to others. Therefore, the proper way to wear your mask is to put it over your nose and mouth at the same time.”
The CDC offers these tips for correctly wearing face coverings:
- Wash your hands before putting on your face covering or mask.
- Place covering over your nose and mouth while securing it under your chin.
- Fit covering snugly to your face but allow room for breathing.
Fact 3: Wearing a face covering will not make you sick.
Stories have circulated on the intranet that wearing face coverings can cause you to become ill from the intake of carbon dioxide from your exhaled breaths. While carbon dioxide is dangerous at high levels, experts advise the amount breathed in while wearing a mask is not likely to cause harm.
“When a person breathes in too much carbon dioxide, they may experience a variety of symptoms, such as dizziness, lightheadedness, headache, shortness of breath and confusion,” says Dr. Campbell. “According to the CDC, the risk of carbon dioxide poisoning from wearing a mask is very low.”
Fact 4: Children under 2 should not wear a face covering.
Because children age 2 and under are not able to properly manage wearing a face covering, the CDC advises against doing so.
“If a younger child were to wear a mask and experience difficulty in breathing, he or she may not understand how to adjust or remove the mask, which poses a great risk of suffocation,” says Dr. Campbell. “Without a doubt, unobstructed breathing should always be the first concern for children under the age of 2.”
Additionally, the CDC advises that anyone who experiences “…trouble breathing, is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance…” should not use face coverings.
Fact 5: Cloth face coverings should be washed after each use.
Whether by hand or in your washing machine, cloth face coverings should be washed after each use to remove their collection of germs. The CDC has a list of steps that can be followed for the proper cleansing of your face coverings.
“As a best practice, you should always have more than one mask or face covering available for use,” says Dr. Campbell. “Establish a routine where as soon as one is washed, you have at least one that’s dry, sanitized and ready for wear outside of your home to help protect yourself and others.”
While our knowledge of COVID-19 and its spread continues to evolve, your best line of defense is to be as proactive as possible in following preventive measures. Maintain physical distancing, wash your hands frequently with soap and water (or hand sanitizer when on the go) and consider wearing a face covering when interacting with others to prevent spreading unintended germs.
As information on COVID-19 evolves, guidance sourced from the CDC and other resources contained in this blog may be subject to change. This material is intended for general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your medical provider for personal care recommendations.