Do I have to wear a mask?
This is the easiest question to answer. It is your choice! But in some states and some circumstances, you will be breaking the law if you do not.
The regulations vary from state to state. The most recent guidance from medical practitioners and the CDC ( Centers for Disease Control) strongly indicate that we are all safer if we do.
Why should I wear a face mask?
On the best information available, it is clear that Coronavirus diseases spread most easily on airborne water droplets. For example, when an infected person sneezes or coughs. Wearing a face mask has been shown to restrict the spread of airborne diseases.
The problem is that a significant number of infected people are either unaware or display no symptoms. That could be you and me. We may be infectious, capable of innocently passing on the virus to anyone around us. If we wear a face mask ‘when it matters’ we are protecting our community, friends and colleagues, our families, and ourselves.
When should I wear a face mask?
First, how do they work?
Let’s not get too technical but they work as a two-way barrier. They protect the wearer by acting as a filter which reduces the chances of inhaling infectious airborne water droplets. More significantly they prevent ‘larger’ expelled droplets (the wearer’s coughs and sneezes) from evaporating into smaller droplets which would otherwise travel further and put others more at risk.
Read our article on The risk of infection by water droplets and touching infected surfaces.
Obviously, in the open air with nobody about, you don’t need a mask either to protect yourself or others. Conversely, the more enclosed the space and the larger the number of people the greater the good sense of ‘masking’. Different states have different rules but as the rules are increasingly relaxed, so the need for good sense becomes more important.
Most of us live in four distinct environments within which there are various levels of risk. Broadly speaking these environments are; home, travel, work, and leisure. Let’s take these in order: –
If you have anyone in your household who has tested positive for the COVID-19 virus they must, so far as is possible be isolated and be masked at all times in the presence of a third party. Visitors to the premises should always wear a mask.
When you travel by public transport you will usually be in an enclosed space and in close proximity to strangers. In most states, masks and social distancing are enforced by law. Under any circumstances, it makes sense to wear a mask and maintain as much distance as practical.
Working conditions are controlled by law in all states though there some variations. Your employer may not force you to work in conditions that breach these standards. Most experts now agree that wearing a mask lowers the risk of infection for the wearer and the possibility of infecting colleagues. This is especially true in meetings or when face to face interaction is essential, even when transparent screening is provided.
This is the area that needs the greatest amount of ‘good sense’.
Leisure, entertainment (including bars and restaurants), and sports are regulated by their state but it makes good sense to avoid large crowds (especially indoors) and even at outdoor events to wear a mask and to avoid ‘pinch points’ such as entries and exits.
Why has the guidance changed?
It would be fairer to ask why the emphasis has changed. Back in February/March it was everyone’s first concern to protect those most at risk, namely members of the medical profession and other carers most likely to be exposed. Even then it was clear that masks would be the first line of protection. A shortage of supply colored the advice given to the general public. A greater understanding of the pandemic itself and the response to the potential demand for masks has been reflected in both the advice and the availability of suitable protection.
Does it matter how many people wear masks?
In an ideal world, everyone would wear a mask and maintain a social distance of at least 6 feet. We know that is not going to happen! Even if a few people live in an area where few others wear masks, you reduce your own risk of infection if YOU DO!
Research suggests that if 80% of the population were to wear masks the effect would be more beneficial than strict lockdown. Which would you prefer?
Do your bit – Stay Safe!
FOOTNOTE STAY SAFE – The closest analogy is the seatbelt in autos. In 1968 wearing a seat belt became law. Since then seat belts (and airbags) are reckoned to have saved 20,000 American lives (each year)! 90% of us belt up when driving – not because it is the law but because it ‘makes good sense’. THAT LEAVES 27 MILLION WHO LEAVE THEMSELVES AT RISK