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older man wearing face mask in grocery store

It’s True: Face Masks Protect Communities from Covid

older man wearing face mask in grocery store

Make Masking Up Your Contribution to Fighting Coronavirus

Masks may take a little getting used to, but as coronavirus numbers continue to rise across the United States and especially here in the Palmetto State, wearing a face covering when going out in public is increasingly important and mandatory in most places. And with widespread access to a vaccine unlikely before the end of 2020, wearing a mask is a step we can take to protect lives in our communities and help stop the spread of COVID-19.

Why wearing a mask is so important

It can take up to 14 days for coronavirus symptoms to appear. And studies show that significant percentages of people infected with the disease remain asymptomatic, never experiencing any symptoms at all. This means that you could be carrying the disease and not know it. But just because you don’t feel sick doesn’t mean you can’t spread it.

“If you are in close proximity to a person who has COVID-19 the only thing that makes that interaction low-risk is when you are wearing a mask and the other person is wearing a mask,” says Dr. Robert Oliverio, vice president and chief medical officer of ambulatory care and population health at Roper St. Francis Healthcare.

“Anything less than that makes it a much higher-risk encounter.”

When you are infected with COVID-19, every time you have close contact with another person in a store, at the gym or in a restaurant, you are shedding the virus and putting them at risk. Shedding happens when you talk, cough, sneeze or breathe. Even if you do not feel sick or have a single symptom yourself — if you aren’t covering your face and staying at least six feet away, you are spreading the virus.

“The only way to know that you are not causing problems for others or inviting a problem for yourself is if you both are wearing a mask,” says Dr. Oliverio. “And you don’t want to be that person who causes problems for your elderly parents, your friends’ children, your pastor or anyone else.”

Common mask myths

Maybe you’ve heard that wearing a mask interferes with your oxygen intake. Or that it causes carbon dioxide poisoning. Misinformation like this about masks is popping up on social media and much of it is untrue, Dr. Oliverio says.

“When you’re wearing a cloth mask, what you are doing is redirecting your airflow around the mask and away from the person you are talking to,” he says. “The resistance to breathing is low, and even if you have a breathing condition, a mask will not make it worse.”

“What will make a breathing problem worse, he adds, is a bad case of COVID-19.”

Who should wear a face mask for COVID-19

The Centers for Disease Control recommend that you wear a face covering in public settings and around people who don’t live in your household. A face covering is particularly important in situations where it is difficult to stick to social distancing measures. These recommendations apply to everyone over the age of two.

What to do when you can’t wear a face mask

There are certain life circumstances and activities in which wearing a mask isn’t always feasible. For example, a face covering may be difficult for:

  • People who are hearing impaired and rely on lipreading to communicate.
  • People with developmental disabilities or mental health conditions for whom wearing something on the face may trigger a negative reaction.
  • Very young children who cannot keep a mask on properly for long periods.

Wearing a mask is not possible or recommended for activities such as:

  • Swimming or other activities where a mask would become wet, making it difficult to breathe.
  • Running and other high intensity activities.
  • Working in settings where a face covering increases the risk of heat-related illness.

If you find yourself in a situation not conducive to wearing a mask, make sure that you follow other guidelines for reducing the spread of COVID-19:

  • Wash your hands often.
  • Practice social distancing (maintain a distance of six feet).
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces.

How to choose a face mask

Professional grade or N95 masks should be conserved for healthcare workers and caretakers of COVID-19 patients. For everyone else, there are two options for day-to-day face coverings: cloth face masks and disposable face masks.

Disposable face masks are convenient and lightweight, but they are for one-time use only.

Cloth masks, especially if they are made of cotton, are easier on the skin and reusable. If you have sensitive or breakout-prone skin these are a good choice. They are also more comfortable for exercising and situations where you will be active, and they can be washed after wearing.

If you do experience skin irritation from a face mask, make sure you:

  • Wash the mask after every use.
  • Avoid wearing makeup on the part of your face that touches the mask.
  • Apply a barrier cream to soothe friction between the mask and your skin.

How to put on a mask

Once you’ve chosen your face mask, you want to make sure it is doing its job. This means making sure it fits your face and then wearing it correctly. When putting on a cloth mask, make sure that it covers your nose and mouth.

  • It is fitted across the bridge of your nose.
  • It is fitted under your chin.
  • The ear loops are securely holding it in place.
  • It is fitted close to your face, but not uncomfortably tight.

Protect yourself and others from coronavirus

There are a lot of opinions about masks. But a mask’s effectiveness at helping you stop the spread of coronavirus is a fact. And the sooner we stop the spread, the sooner we can confidently get back to life, work and a bustling economy.

At Roper St. Francis Healthcare, we are committed to keeping you safe during coronavirus. To find out how we are ensuring patient safety during COVID-19 visit www.rsfh.com/coronavirus.

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  • Maskne is real, here’s how to treat it - House Calls
    September 10, 2020 at 2:34 pm

    […] no doubt that masks are one of the most proactive things you can do to prevent the spread of COVID-19. We are all wearing them, and that’s a good thing. […]

  • Kathryn Ryan
    August 10, 2020 at 11:32 am

    For the sake of definition and cirrrct communication, Are the marks with a blue side considered “surgical “ masks ? Is it true that those masks protect 3 times better than the cute, colorful cotton face masks . If that is true then I think that all medical clinicians should have that info and must wear the surgical masks when with a patient… Your information here should also state that and be implemented throughout the medical community. Please advise. Thanks.

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