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Is It Important to Wear a Mask? Yes, Says the New York Times

Is It Important to Wear a Mask? Yes, Says the New York Times
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Published on August 18, 2020

Graphic Illustrates Why Wearing a Mask Is Important

The New York Times created a 3-D simulation illustrating how public health experts believe the novel coronavirus is spread through water droplets in a person’s breath and why social distancing and masks reduce transmission.

Cancer patients are at an increased risk of contracting the coronavirus because of their compromised immune system, and a few have spoken to Patient Power about being hassled for wearing a mask.

Breast cancer survivor Greta Beekhuis of Sacramento, California, told Patient Power Co-Founder Esther Schorr that she was harassed in a grocery store parking lot when she went to pick up her medicine.

“…a group of young women approached me and actually got right up in my face and started yelling at me, ‘Why are you wearing a mask? Are you afraid? You should get your groceries from China.’ And then another one said, ‘It's a hoax. Why are you wearing a mask?’” Beekhuis said.            

“While I consider myself a pretty good communicator, I could not think of a single thing to say. I just wanted to get at least six feet away from them and continue on to the store, which I did. But I was shaking at that point. I thought, "What is going on?"

Wearing a Face Mask Reduces the Spread of COVID-19

The New York Times presentation provides one view of what can happen when someone coughs indoors. Larger droplets from a person’s cough fall to the floor or break up into smaller droplets. Large droplets that fall in close proximity are thought to be the main source of transmission, the paper says. It is why the social distancing recommendation is six feet.

An infected person talking for five minutes in a poorly ventilated space can produce as many viral droplets as one infectious cough, the paper notes.

However, the simulation suggests that larger droplets can travel farther than six feet. (MIT researchers have observed particles from a cough traveling as far as 16 feet and those from a sneeze traveling as far as 26 feet, the paper reports.) And small droplets – or aerosols – can remain airborne for 20 minutes and continue to disperse more widely before settling on surfaces.

“It’s not like, ‘Oh, it’s six feet, they’ve all fallen and there’s nothing,’” Donald K. Milton, an infectious aerosols scientist at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Health, told the Times. “It’s more like it’s a continuum.”

The Times animation shows how a mask disrupts the trajectory of a cough, sneeze, or breath and captures some respiratory droplets before they can spew out. The presentation notes that a mask can also prevent large infectious droplets from landing on the nose and mouth though it provides minimal protection against inhaling the smaller droplets.

Wearing a mask can help protect yourself and others,” the paper says. “So if you do need to leave home, wear a mask and be sure to keep your distance.”

What Type of Face Mask Should I Wear?

The type of mask is also critical to containing the spread, according to Summer Krain, an advanced practice nurse from the UAMS Myeloma Center in Little Rock, Arkansas, who participated in another webinar with Schorr on masks.

“You want to have a mask that has a good quality weave so that these droplets cannot get through,” she said. “So the material needs to be a nice tightly woven, but breathable material that you can still breathe in, but will trap the respiratory droplets.”

She said a good test is holding up a flashlight through the fabric. If you can almost see through it, the fabric is not woven tightly enough.

One of the best options for cancer patients is the three-layered N95 mask. The outer layer repels blood or fluid; the middle absorbs respiratory secretions; and the inner filters out 95% of what is exhaled.

Krain explained that N95 masks are regulated by The National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH) and can filter out particulates less than 100 nanometers in size. But in order to work effectively, they need to fit properly. 

“Everybody's face is different shaped. And so you have to go in and you actually have to be tested to make sure that it actually fits your face appropriately,” Krain said. “It's a very tight seal.”

Whether you wear an N95 mask, surgical mask, cloth mask, or another type of face covering, experts agree: wearing a mask is important for protecting yourself and others.

Masks are a Health Issue, Not a Political One

As for those patients who are harassed for wearing a mask, social work program manager Harold Dean, also from the UAMS Myeloma Center, told Schorr that he is advising his patients to discuss why they wear a mask with others.

“…we just talked about the importance of being your own advocate and not feeling bad about wearing a mask, that there's absolutely no dishonor in wearing a mask,” he said. “…unfortunately, mask wearing has somehow permutated into some kind of political issue. And the reality is, this is not a political issue. This is a health issue. This is a public health, a public protection issue.”

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~Megan Trusdell

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