‘Masks alone are not enough’

UTA public health expert weighs in on wearing masks to prevent COVID-19 spread

Monday, Apr 20, 2020 • Elizabeth Couch :

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As researchers continue to study the evolution, spread and effects of coronavirus, health organizations worldwide have issued guidelines regarding the usage of masks and coverings.

A public health expert at The University of Texas at Arlington said she believes mitigating the spread of COVID-19 is a team effort that requires more than just wearing masks.

“Mask usage and good hand hygiene have been shown to significantly reduce the spread of respiratory infections,” said Erin Carlson, associate clinical professor and director of graduate public health programs in the College of Nursing and Health Innovation. “However, people need to understand that masks alone are not enough.”

Q: Why are health experts recommending that people wear masks?

A: Mask usage is aimed at preventing person-to-person transmission. Simple cloth masks essentially prevent sick people from further spreading a virus through their own droplets of body fluid when speaking, coughing or sneezing. It’s important to note, facemasks do not filter out viruses, because they are not N-95 respirators.

Q: Who should wear masks?

A: Everybody should wear a mask, unless you are 2 years of age or younger, have trouble breathing or are unable to remove the cover without assistance.

Q: What is the correct way to wear a mask?

A: Masks should be worn over the mouth and nose without gaps between the face and the mask. It's very important that people who aren't used to wearing masks practice wearing one before they go out. This way they know how they feel and can practice resisting the urge to adjust them. If it is uncomfortable, just leave it and do not touch your face until you can properly wash your hands.

Q: Should people who feel healthy wear masks?

A: Yes. We know that many individuals with coronavirus are asymptomatic, and pre-symptomatic individuals can transmit the virus. That means you should wear a mask even if you're perfectly healthy, even if you haven't been exposed and even if you don't have any signs of disease. Doing so is very important to protect those who have underlying health conditions or weakened immune systems.

Q: Why is the use of masks alone not effective?

A: To prevent further spread of any type of virus, mask usage has to be done in conjunction with hand hygiene and social distancing. This is only effective if everybody follows the rules. If we're going to use masks as a means to prevent community transmission of disease, it will only work well if everyone's doing it and doing it right.

Q: What should people know about preventing the spread of coronavirus?

A: Wash your hands. Wear a mask, even if you feel healthy. Cover your mouth and nose. Avoid touching your mouth and nose. It only works if we all do it.

For CDC instructions on how to make simple face coverings at home, please visit https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/diy-cloth-face-coverings.html.