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Opinion: Wearing masks in public can save lives

There is no doubt that cases of COVID-19 are on the rise, including here in Southwest Florida. Fortunately, there are precautions we can take as a society to decrease the risk to the most vulnerable individuals.

Guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on masks has evolved since their first recommendation. Due to a shortage of personal protective equipment, they initially advised that the public not wear masks to ensure that health care workers had supplies. The CDC still recommends the public save medical-grade masks for health care workers.

However, there is now evidence that suggests the use of non-medical grade face coverings by the public can reduce the risk of transmitting the virus in people who are pre-symptomatic — meaning that they are about to become ill with symptoms, but they don’t yet know it.

Viral infections usually enter our body through inhalation or exposure to mucus membranes (eyes, nose, mouth). If our immune system is highly efficient, it may quickly eradicate the virus before it has time to replicate. This is called being “asymptomatic.” Sometimes, the virus divides faster than our immune system can destroy it, and we begin to show symptoms such as fever, chills, body aches, coughing, and sneezing.

It is in the hours to days before we show signs of illness that we are at risk for spreading infection to others. This stage of infection, called “pre-symptomatic,” is the time when wearing a mask could prevent us from spreading the virus — before we know we have it.

While cloth masks or face coverings are not 100% effective in reducing the spread of viral particles, they can significantly reduce the load of virus we transmit to others. It seems that with this particular coronavirus, the more “viral load” a person is exposed to, the more serious their illness. Wearing a mask decreases the chance of droplet exposure and limits the distance escaping virus can travel. The mask should fit properly to fully cover your nose and mouth.

Although wearing masks can feel uncomfortable, especially if we are not used to them, they do not cause serious health hazards in most people. Only patients with severe end-stage respiratory problems might have complications from wearing a tight-fitting mask — and these are people who should not be out in public anyway, as they are at high risk if they become infected.

Some safety techniques for healthy mask wearing include ensuring your mask has a layer of wicking fabric like cotton against your face, washing your mask regularly, and not sharing your mask with others. Wash your hands after applying or removing your mask.

It is not necessary to wear a mask all the time. If you feel well, you do not need to wear a mask when you are outdoors or in a well-ventilated area more than 6 feet away from others. However, if you are in an enclosed space or in close proximity to other people, wearing a mask, along with hand washing, can provide important protection in decreasing the virus spread.

Collier County Medical Society stands ready to serve residents and visitors in Southwest Florida. We are here to answer your questions and provide support as we continue to learn the best ways to fight this pandemic. Thank you for your support of health care workers, and we are confident we can continue to count on our Blue Zones community to prevent the further spread of COVID-19.

As published 16 July, 2020 in the Naples Daily News


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