From The Star Press
As Governor Holcomb announced a statewide mask mandate to take place on Monday, many Hoosiers applauded the decision, others pushed back and some remain unsure.
Masks have become a point of contention during the COVID-19 pandemic, and currently, more than half of the country’s states have a mandate in place. However, since March, there has been misinformation and myths circulating face coverings.
“I know there’s a lot of push back from people, but it is a tool available to decrease the spread and the amount of exposure,” said Charisse Hinds, infection control and director of nursing at Meridian Health Services.
While Attorney General Curtis Hill said Holcomb lacks authority to mandate masks and that he should have called a special session to ask the legislature to pass a law requiring masks, Hoosiers are still expected to mask up Monday.
The Star Press spoke with three local health organizations to find out the best practices for mask wearing. Here’s all you need to know:
Can masks stop the spread of COVID-19?
During the early stages of the pandemic, masks were not recommended for the general public by the CDC, but due to new research, things have changed.
Currently, the organization recommends people wear cloth face coverings in public settings, as the virus is typically spread through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks within close proximity.
The spread of COVID-19 can be reduced when cloth face coverings are used along with other preventive measures, including social distancing, frequent hand washing and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces.
“Viruses are very small microns and any type of barrier can help,” Hinds said. “It’s a filter to keep my microns, my virus, from going out, and also, to stop your’s coming through. If I’m maintaining six-feet (of distance), the chances are those particles aren’t going to get to me.”
Delaware County Health Department Administrator Jammie Bane said that since the CDC changed its stance on masks, the department has recommended mask use among citizens in situations where they are in public places, cannot distance from others, or feel they run the risk of exposure and infection.
However, Bane also warns against a false sense of security. Social distancing and avoiding crowds is still the best preventative measure.
“Masks can aid in lowering transmission risk, but they are not a full solution,” Bane said. “People should continue to avoid crowds and prolonged close contact with those outside of their inner circle, as well as travel to known hot spots.”
‘Right mask for the right task’
When choosing a mask, there are many options, including the N95, medical grade and cloth masks. However, you don’t need what a surgeon wears when you’re making a grocery run.
The CDC recommends not using an N95 mask in order to save them for medical staff who are in need of them. While the supply of these has improved since the start of the pandemic, they are still not as readily available.
“The N95’s are difficult to obtain,” Hinds said. “We need to make sure they are used at the level they are needed.”
Instead, both Hinds and Bane encourage the average citizen to invest in a cloth mask, which can be purchased or homemade from a variety materials.
Dr. Ryan Johnston, associate chief medical officer for Ball Memorial Hospital, echoed that sentiment, saying only people in contact with patients should wear medical masks.
“Cloth coverings would be sufficient for most individuals in the community who are not exposed to patients,” Johnston said. “If exposed to patients, surgical masks would be preferred as they most likely confer better protection than cloth face masks.”
Johnston added that bandanas are the least effective form of masking.
When choosing a mask, Bane also recommended there be a minimum of two layers of fabric and for consumers to avoid high dollar gimmicks.
“Overall, cloth masks are not regulated closely like N95 type respirators, which leaves the door open to a lot of bold or misleading claims such as ‘antimicrobial’ or statements concerning the use of such additions as activated charcoal, copper and silver to improve the masks,” Bane said.
But in order for any mask to work, they must be used properly.
How to properly wear a mask
While out at the grocery store or walking through the mall, you might’ve seen others wear masks below their nose or around their neck.
These are all incorrect, and wearing masks incorrectly or having to make frequent adjustments can just further spread the virus.
“Masks should be worn to cover the nose and mouth and not pulled down around your chin,” Johnston said. “They should be worn at times with a minimum of 6 feet social distance can not be maintained.”
Hines referred to guidelines provided by the World Health Organization for how to properly wear mask, which include:
- Wash your hands prior to putting on your mask
- Inspect the mask for dirt or damage, like holes
- Cover your mouth, nose and chin
- Adjust mask to face so there are no gaps
- Avoid touching the mask or your face
- Wash hands before removing mask
- When removing mask, remove it by the straps behind the ears
- Store mask in plastic, reusable bag
- If its a cloth mask, wash it with soap and hot water at least once a day
There’s a lot of misconceptions and myths out there about masks, whether it be that only the sick need to wear them or that they don’t offer protection.
One of the biggest misconceptions Hinds has heard is that masks lower oxygen levels and increase carbon dioxide, which she said is simply not true.
An operating nurse for 22 years, Hinds had to wear a mask every day for long periods of time. But that doesn’t mean she’s not sympathetic. She knows it’s an adjustment.
“It’s like when you get a new pair of glasses. They feel uncomfortable, they don’t sit right on your nose, your ears hurt,” Hinds said. “The same thing with the masks, but the benefits, the silver linings that come along with masking is better.”
Hinds has also heard many people with asthma state they cannot wear masks. However, she said there are very few medical reasons to not wear one.
At Meridian, she’s seen oxygen dependent patients with a mask on, and when a deaf person needed medical assistance, Meridian purchased clear masks so they could read the provider’s lips.
“As more education becomes available, more people realize, ‘Okay, I can wear it for a few minutes in the grocery store or I can wear it for the few minutes I visit my neighbor,'” Hinds said.
Johnston said there’s lots of misconceptions floating around. However, the biggest one he’s noticed is people saying masks aren’t effective.
“From a population health standpoint, there is increasing evidence to suggest that masks help mitigate the spread virus in communities,” Johnston said.
Both Hinds and Johnston said they agree with Holcomb’s decision to issue a mask mandate, as it can only help the community.
“Universal masking is one of the most single behaviors that we can very easily do,” Hinds said. “It’s a small action. I’m glad to see this, actually. I think it’s a move in the right direction.”