Masks to fight COVID-19
By Mark Mederson (TheLorian)
As Halloween approaches many students are thinking about their choice of costume. In a presidential election year, a rubber mask of the Republican or Democratic nominee is a simple way to dress up for a party. This year is different. When you hear the word mask you are more likely to envision the medical version. The mask that we now know is the best defense against spreading COVID-19.
The virus is also known by another name, the novel coronavirus 19. The number 19 is because the virus was first identified in 2019. The novel is because it is new. So new that doctors and health professionals did not know exactly how to deal with the disease in the early days.
In February the government agency, once considered the gold standard for health and medical information, the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, publicly said that masks were not necessary as a defense for average citizens.
The CDC was speaking of N-95 masks, considered to be the most effective in assuring the wearer is safe from infection. Another consideration for the CDC in publicly stating their advice against mask usage was a shortage of N-95 masks. These were desperately needed for hospital medical staff who were working to save the lives of people who were infected with the virus.
In March of this year a YouTube video from a doctor went viral. Dr. Jeffrey VanWingen was showing viewers how and why to sterilize your groceries when you got home. In April a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine focused on “hand hygiene” noting the importance of cleaning surfaces that may have been infected.
When COVID first hit us, scientists were working from data that had been gathered from experiences with viruses that had been around for years. But after six months of fighting, scientists now have a better idea of what does and does not work in the battle against COVID.
Dr. VanWingen’s advice to wipe your apples with bleach was based on experiences with previous viruses that were often transmitted by contacting infected surfaces. COVID is slightly different.
“It’s not that [surface spread] can’t happen,” Dr. Nahid Bhadelia, MD, an infectious diseases physician and associate professor at the Boston University School of Medicine said, “it’s just that the likelihood is less than if someone was actually right in front of you breathing live virus in their droplets onto you.”
Health experts now believe the likelihood of infection from these droplets and aerosols, that come from our mouth or nose are far greater than from surface contact. Scientists now say it’s the aerosols that are perhaps the most dangerous.
In an article on the website Medium, Donald Milton, MD, PhD, a professor of environmental health at the University of Maryland, says that for most of us the terminology is often confusing.
“Aerosol means that it’s something that can float in the air, and how big it can be depends a lot on how much movement there is in the air,” Milton says. “Fairly large droplets that are coming from people talking, coughing, sneezing, breathing, singing will float in the air depending on how much air movement we have.”
Experts warn that this does not mean we can stop wiping surfaces or washing our hands. What it does mean is that social distancing and masks are now considered to be the best ways to limit the spread.
Appearing before Congress just last week, Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the CDC, emphasized the importance of wearing masks. As he held up a mask, Redfield said, “I might even go so far as to say that this face mask is more guaranteed to protect me against COVID than when I take a COVID vaccine, because it may be 70%,” Redfield said. “And if I don’t get an immune response, the vaccine is not going to protect me. This face mask will.”
In a press conference the next day, President Trump said he thought Redfield, who Trump handpicked to be the CDC director, was “confused” when he made his remarks before Congress. This isn’t the only time that the Trump administration has been accused of altering messages from the CDC. The New York Times published a story on Sept. 17 that showed officials from the Trump administration had been writing their own recommendations regarding COVID testing while saying the information came directly from the scientists at the CDC.
This is in line with Trump’s own words from his interview with journalist Bob Woodward when Trump said he has purposely been downplaying the dangers of COVID. Two weeks ago, Trump, who has rarely been seen in public wearing a mask, asked a journalist to remove his while asking the president a question. Trump has been criticized for not being more forceful about suggesting that all Americans should be wearing masks all the time.
That brings us to the Loras College campus. Students and faculty have been strictly adhering to the protocol of wearing masks in the classrooms. But since we now know about the importance of wearing them when it comes to reducing the spread of the disease, perhaps we need to be even more diligent about wearing our masks all the time. In the dorms. In apartments. Pretty much any time we’re around other people, including roommates. If we really want to stay healthy we need to wear our masks and keep our distance.
In that same congressional hearing Redfield said if Americans wore face masks for several weeks, “we would bring this pandemic under control,” because there is scientific evidence they work and they are our “best defense.”