I am reading about, and talking to, a lot of people who honestly believe they’re being “disrespected” in some way, or are having their “rights taken away” for being asked to wear a mask in public. This is absolutely not true! COVID-19 is a public health crisis, and as a doctor on the front lines fighting this horrible disease, I am going to explain why it is in everyone’s interest to wear a mask in public.
The biggest problem with COVID-19 compared to SARS, H1N1, H1N5 or Flu is that there are 40% of people who are asymptomatic carriers (meaning they have the virus, yet have NO symptoms) and can infect others without knowing it. COVID-19 is not “like the flu.” When people become infected with the flu, they have the usual miserable symptoms and want to go home and go to bed. Also, people who find themselves near a flu-infected person want to automatically distance themselves as the flu-infected person is coughing and sneezing. With COVID-19, however, this is not always the case! People can “feel fine,” and unknowingly be infecting other people with the virus.
What You Accomplish by Wearing a Mask
When you wear a mask in public, you are protecting others from what you may be unknowingly carrying. Your mask also protects you from yourself in that it will keep you from touching your face.
Dr. Luke Padwick, an ER physician, in an interview with Healthline, said, “Wearing a mask is good for two reasons: It’s going to cut down 95 percent of the breathing that sends the virus up to 6 feet away in a room, and also will reduce fecal/oral transmission by preventing the virus from getting into your nose or mouth if you touch a contaminated surface and then your face … I think this will slow down the virus a lot.”1
Your mask reduces the amount of your own droplets traveling outward toward another person or people (thus protecting others) when in a public place such as the grocery store or pharmacy. Remember, it's possible that you are an asymptomatic carrier.
Note that in countries wherein the curve has been flattened soonest, people wear masks in public.4
The curve5 flattens when the exponential transmission of the virus slows, thus helping hospitals not become overwhelmed with so many patients at one time that they cannot always be cared for in a timely manner.
The transmission of everyone’s respiratory droplets to one another declines with mask wearing. Public mask wearing “limits the spread of the virus from someone who knows or does not know they have an infection to others.”6
The graphic (above) explains it well. The numbers are based on data about how fast and far the virus travels and how long it stays in the air via droplets or aerosols, and the tests with masks in blocking penetration of viral droplets. Note: This diagram does not deal with aerosalizing procedures which would require an N95 mask.
What Kind of Mask Should I Wear?
The “CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies) especially in areas of significant community-based transmission”7
Here are the instructions from the CDC for making your own cloth face mask (both sewn and not sewn): CDC DIY Cloth Face Covering Instructions – Sew and No-Sew Methods
Also, here is an excellent cloth mask-making video we have featured before in one of our blog posts: How to Sew a Reusable Face Mask With Filter Pocket//DIY Fabric Face Mask//Batch Sew Medical Mask
Use one of the following materials for improved filtration if you sew your own mask with a pocket for a filter: material from an anti-microbial pillowcase, or car shop towels (as suggested by the inventor of the N95 mask).8 You can also simply make your entire mask with these two materials (using the sew or no-sew method).
Proper hand-washing practices are of utmost importance to get the most protection out of your mask! Make sure to first wash your hands before putting on your mask. Also, make sure to launder your mask every day.
The Doctor Emi Team
4. Wilson A. The Countries That Are Succeeding at Flattening the Curve. April 2, 2020 ForeignPolicy.com https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/04/02/countries-succeeding-flattening-curve-coronavirus-testing-quarantine/
5. Specktor B. Coronavirus: What is 'flattening the curve,' and will it work? LiveScience.com March 16, 2020. https://www.livescience.com/coronavirus-flatten-the-curve.html
6. Desai AN, Aronoff DM. Masks and Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). JAMA. Published online April 17, 2020. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.6437
7. Recommendation Regarding the Use of Cloth Face Coverings, Especially in Areas of Significant Community-Based Transmission. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Page last reviewed: April 3, 2020 https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/cloth-face-cover.html