Face Masks: Wearing Them and Wearing Them Right

Masks are an important form of concealment worn on the face for protection, and it is estimated that only a handful are actually helpful in slowing down the spread of the Novel Coronavirus during this pandemic.

Studies have found that when people wear a mask over their nose and mouth when in public, there’s lower rates of transmission. A study released in Health Affairs, a peer-reviewed and top publication healthcare journal, found that states with enforced mask mandates had a greater decline in daily COVID-19 growth rates, compared to those states without mask mandates. But of utmost importance is the fact that evidence goes to show that cloth face coverings help prevent those with COVID-19 from spreading the virus to others.

Not only do masks objectively work for this reason, but they’re also pivotal in protecting people from respiratory infections. For that reason, New York State for months now — on the behests of Governor Andrew Cuomo — mandates that everyone that can medically tolerate a face covering to wear one in public.

While it’s not necessarily true of every school, city and county officials are generally empowered to make the decision to enforce mask mandates in their own local schools. School districts have been required during the reopening process to accommodate for social distancing of at least six feet, and the proper wearing of face coverings is endorsed by the New York State Department of Health in all “common areas such as hallways or on school buses.”

Unfortunately, this mere endorsement does not always translate to reality. While some counties choose to enforce masks mandates by targeting institutions for violating rules, Montgomery County may not be one of those counties. Luckily, the Greater Amsterdam School District announced that it is trying to reinforce the wearing of face coverings on school grounds. According to the website:

“Students will be required to wear masks as much as possible throughout the day, including when on buses, learning in classrooms and transitioning in halls. Students will be given a ‘mask break’ when possible and when eating lunch. No bandanas or gator masks are allowed.”

Moreover, social distancing is being reinforced in the classrooms, thanks to the presence of “fewer desks than normal to accommodate a 6-foot social distance between students, with many classrooms holding no more than 9-12 desks,” according to the district’s website.

So what masks work best? So long as the mask creates a formidable barrier between your face and those around you, and effectively reduces droplet transmission, the mask is doing its job. That means medical-grade N95 masks, surgical paper masks, and cloth masks for the general public provide for sufficient protection from large respiratory droplets from coughs or sneezes and also smaller airborne particles from when people talk or exhale, but bandanas, gaiter masks, and knitted masks don’t protect enough. The neck gaiter in particular, besides doing nothing for protection, looks to actually turn large droplets into smaller ones. Considering these aerosols are a major source of transmission, the lack of protection against the production of droplets is extremely dangerous. As for knitted and crocheted masks, these have large holes and simply don’t have the multi-layer protection necessary to offer proper defense against the virus.

Cloth masks should be washed after each use, using either your standard washer and dryer on the warmest setting possible or hand washing it with a bleach solution. Surgical masks are generally single-use and should be disposed of; there is no reason to consider washing or disinfecting surgical masks for this reason. Caring for your face covering matters just as much as wearing it.

But what really matters is not just wearing a mask but also how you wear it. While it can be loose fitting, it must be secure enough to stay in place. If it’s snug enough, that means there’s no gaps between your face and the mask. Researchers have indicated that wearing masks over your nose guarantees that your respiratory droplets primarily remain inside your veil. Do NOT leave your nose unsealed by the mask, because it’s almost as though you’re wearing no mask at all. Likewise, leaving your chin uncovered can cause germs to contact the skin, possibly transferring to your eyes, nose or mouth. An exposed chin can also make germs spread from your mouth to anyone around you. Make sure your masks are worn properly, and tell others — co-workers, neighbors, students, teachers — about this as well to maximize protection and the slowing down of community spread.

By wearing your mask properly, you are playing your civic duty to protect others and keep your community safe. Masks work, as research shows, in blocking respiratory droplets. This is indisputable. Some people would argue that being forced to wear a mask can be considered an infringement on personal liberties, but the battle against the virus needs our immediate engagement. Face coverings, as studies have proven, reduce the risk of infection to the wearer by up to 65 percent. COVID-19 is a serious illness and managing its spread means following scientific guidance and evidence. It would be erroneous to ignore research that saves lives and to disregard the safety of those around you.

Cases are rising all throughout the world. In the United States alone, thousands and hundreds of thousands of cases a day are being detected. This is a dangerous development. Here in New York, the cumulative number of COVID-19 cases has topped at least 518,000. At the time this is published, it is believed that there have been at least 868 total cases in Montgomery County, and an acknowledged total of 23 people who have passed on as a result of complications with the virus. Unfortunately, much of the statistics and impact that the coronavirus has on the country are shrouded in mystery and a lack of full transparency, so not all statistics are necessarily up-to-date or correct.

Cases are still rising, the death count is increasing, and it is important that we work to contain the virus.

Please wear your mask, wear it correctly, and adhere to proper physical distancing measures. We will only get through this pandemic if, firstly, we dare to keep masks up, and carry on according to scientific provisions. This is the new normal.

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