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Should You Wear a Mask in Public?

July 09, 2020

For some people, wearing a mask – or not – has become a political statement. But if we consider the science, we know that wearing a mask is an easy way you can protect the people around you. You can have COVID-19 without realizing it. And if you spread the virus to someone else, that person may take it home and spread it to someone who would not do well fighting it off. Consider people who are older than 65 as well as people – young and old – who have chronic conditions like cancer, diabetes and heart disease. For them, this virus can mean critical illness or death.

We do many things to protect others from unnecessary harm. We don’t drink and drive. We don’t run stop lights. We don’t shout “fire” in a crowded theater. The same principle applies here. Wearing a mask in public protects everyone else from the germs that are released every time you breathe, talk, laugh, cough or sneeze. It’s as simple as that.

To protect yourself and the people you love, play it safe by wearing a mask. Here, experts at The University of Kansas Health System have answered a few frequently asked questions about masks.

  • Yes. Many people with COVID-19 are asymptomatic, which means they are not experiencing any symptoms of the illness for 2-5 days. You can be infected and not know it.

  • We have always been a proponent of wearing a mask to protect others from yourself. Cloth masks are not biomedical grade, which means they won't protect you entirely. Our healthcare workers who interact with patients do not use them.

    But what cloth masks can do is to act as a barrier for the larger droplets that you release. If you have the virus, the mask will keep your droplets – which come out when you breathe, talk or cough – close to you. And if you and another person you interact with both wear masks, that will cut down on the chance of either person being infected. The risk is further lowered if you can maintain at least 6 feet of distance between yourself and the other person.

  • Yes, you can. But please check to see if healthcare providers and other essential workers have adequate supplies of this type of mask before you buy them. Since surgical masks do provide protection from viruses, it is extremely important for people who must interact in person with sick individuals to have a plentiful supply of these masks. As you know, early on in the COVID-19 crisis, supplies of these masks and other personal protective equipment were in shortage. They may be in short supply once again if the number of cases in our region keeps increasing.

  • It's important to touch your mask as little as possible after you put it on. But it is difficult to keep it on for prolonged periods, especially when the weather is warm. If you are running errands and can keep your mask on without manipulating it, that would be best. If you do have to remove it in the car, keep some hand sanitizer with you and use it before removing your mask. Clean your hands again before replacing the mask.

  • Leaving it on the dash for a while may be OK, as the sun’s ultraviolet rays can kill micro-organisms like the virus. But it is essential that cloth masks be regularly cleaned. You may want to have 3 or 4 cloth masks so you can use them in rotation: cleaning 1, using 1, storing 1.

  • It can be OK, as long as the hair stylist is also wearing a mask. Both of you should make sure you perform good hand hygiene before the appointment begins. Using freshly cleaned capes or gowns for every client is helpful. And all equipment should be sanitized between clients.

    Don't manipulate your mask during the appointment. Clean your hands again when you return to your car. And, finally, if either you or the stylist has symptoms or is ill, do not keep that appointment. It may be difficult to ask your stylist if they have any symptoms, but it's the right thing to do.

    Follow these same guidelines with any appointment that puts you and another person in close proximity for longer than 10 minutes.

  • No. Wearing a mask is safe. There are some common beliefs about masks that are not true. For example, carbon dioxide does not build up when you wear a mask. Carbon dioxide diffuses easily through the mask. Also, wearing a mask will not weaken your immune system. These misconceptions can be put to rest. We encourage the use of masks when out in public or when physical distancing is not possible. Covering the mouth and nose reduces the spread of germs.

Doctor visiting with patient.

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For more information on masks and other ways to protect yourself from COVID-19, visit our update page. Check back often for the latest news about the novel coronavirus.

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