With the current pandemic, it seems like you can’t step outside of your door without seeing someone wearing a mask. Driving your car, shopping at the grocery store, and even walking around the park, you are bound to see someone with a face covering. You yourself may be even taking this precaution.
In a matter of days, stores and online sites have sold out of these devices and the internet exploded with how-to videos showing how to make masks out of fabric, bandanas, and even undergarments. It’s like they have almost become a fashion statement. But, are they really necessary, and are they truly helpful in preventing the spread of COVID-19?
What We’ve Been Told About the Mask
For many people, the whole idea of wearing masks is quite confusing. At the start of the outbreak, experts, like Dr. Fauci, who specializes in viral infections and infectious diseases, were telling the American people there was no reason to wear a mask, that they are ineffective and need to be saved for healthcare workers. Later, they reversed that opinion saying that coverings were necessary and should be a precaution taken to prevent the spread of infection.
Does Science Back it Up?
Despite being told to wear masks now, does science really back up the idea that they can prevent the spread of infection? Well, currently, there is not a lot of research on this topic, especially as it relates to COVID-19 and SARS.
However, there was one recent study performed and published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. This study relayed that both surgical and cotton masks seem to be ineffective in the prevention and dissemination of SARS.
Improper Use of a Mask
Not only are these face coverings not that effective, but most people also are not using them correctly. Many people are simply wrapping bandanas around their faces, while others are leaving their nose exposed and only covering their mouths – both of which are completely unproductive. Furthermore, people are touching their mask repeatedly or taking them off with their bare hands completely contaminating the mask.
These coverings often create a breeding ground of moisture, bacteria, and other viral particles which can increase the risk of infection. They can also provide a false sense of security causing individuals to neglect their normal hygiene measures like washing their hands. While potentially useful in confined, poorly ventilated spaces, most health experts agree that they are not doing much good in protecting against COVID-19.
Masks Around the World
When evaluating the usefulness of a mask, it’s also helpful to look at other parts of the world and consider their take on them. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends masks for those who are sick or taking care of sick individuals. Below are the opinions of just a few other countries:
- China – recommends the use for those at moderate and low risk of infection and disposable/surgical masks for medical use
- Hong Kong – a surgical mask is required for those with mild symptoms, not bandanas or homemade coverings
- Singapore – required for those with respiratory symptoms like a cough or runny nose
- Japan – believe the effectiveness of coverings to protect from contraction is quite limited
- United Kingdom – believes they are necessary for healthcare workers but have little evidence of widespread benefits for the public
- Germany – feels there is not enough evidence to prove that wearing a surgical mask significantly reduces the risk of a healthy individual from becoming infected
Even in the United States, the Surgeon General asked individuals to stop buying masks. Additionally, the CDC or Center for Disease Control and Prevention only recommends them for people who are sick.
Is it Political?
While this virus is certainly serious and has caused devastation for thousands of families, it has been nowhere near as harmful or deadly as it was initially made out to be. Where it has caused issues is in its divisiveness. People are passionate about whether individuals should or should not wear masks to the point of getting mad, yelling, and even resorting to violence, leaving many to wonder if this dichotomy is a political game.
Politicians and many medical professionals that have been entwined with politics for dozens of years are telling the population to wear masks and social distance while they themselves are not heeding their own advice. Their press conferences and recommendations have created fear and panic with the solutions only requiring more money. It certainly begs the question of what is going on behind the scenes and are these politicians creating a distraction to push their interests through congress?
Using a Mask
Regardless, if you feel more comfortable using a mask, then make sure to use it properly. Homemade masks should be sanitized after every use. For surgical coverings, these are disposable and meant to be used once and then discarded. Don’t use them all day, contaminate them, and then think they will be effective the next day as well.
N-95 masks can be effective if an individual is sick, but they must fit the face correctly, and again, once touched, they are contaminated and useless. Overall, if you feel the need for a mask, it may be better to stay home altogether. Try food and grocery delivery or have friends and family drop off what you need until you are comfortable leaving home again.
Consider the Big Picture
Though some states are requiring a mask and others are strongly encouraging them, it’s important to realize that the science behind them is limited. In some cases, these devices meant to protect could be exposing you to more bacteria and germs and causing illnesses they are supposed to prevent. Therefore, it may be time to take a step back, look at the big picture, and really start asking questions.
While politicians are requiring you to wear masks, they themselves are not. Even the CDC doesn’t recommend them for individuals who are well. So why this big push to wear face coverings which is only causing turmoil and divisiveness in our country? What is being done behind the scenes while the fight over masks occurs? It’s time to start thinking critically, asking questions, and holding our elected officials accountable.