Public conversation over the use of masks to combat the COVID-19 pandemic has returned to the forefront in the wake of viral videos involving people refusing to wear masks in businesses and a slew of questionable online medical advice.
The issue is an especially important one as Southern California heads into Independence Day weekend amid a major spike in COVID-19 cases throughout the region, public health officials have repeated as a mantra in recent days..
“As we get ready for the upcoming 4th of July holiday weekend, we encourage the community to remain vigilant and follow recommended public health guidelines, which includes social distancing and practicing good hand hygiene,” Huntington Hospital spokeswoman Dorey Houston said. “And most important, if you choose to visit public areas or attend small gatherings, please wear a mask.”
But face coverings come in many forms, from medical grade N95 masks to bandannas and homemade cloth coverings. Both county and state guidelines to not specify any specific type of mask or mask material.
Huntington Hospital infectious disease specialist Dr. Kimberly Schriner urged Pasadenans to wear masks and shared some tips.
“It is still important to remember that wearing a mask is one of the most effective ways to prevent you from infection or passing it on to others,” she said in a written statement.
Lightweight materials are preferable, as heavy fabrics may be uncomfortable and even block proper air flow, she said. “If you’re feeling lightheaded or winded, then it’s time for a safe break.”
Masks with vents should be avoided, including some N95 masks that have vents, as they may allow droplets to escape and spread infection, according to Schriner.
Having several masks handy to change during long periods, or using disposable masks, can help reduce the risk of spreading the virus, in addition to keeping masks clean and dry.
In addition to making people safer, “masks can also be a great fashion statement, so enjoy wearing something that is comfortable, protective and pleasing,” Schriner said.
“Wearing a mask says to others around you, ‘I care about your safety as much as mine,’ she added. “Be a good citizen and enjoy the summer. Wear a mask.
Face masks should be washed after each use, officials said.
While nearly everyone should wear a mask while in public or in close proximity to others, there are some narrow exceptions outlined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
“Cloth face coverings should notbe worn by children under the age of 2 or anyone who has trouble breathing, is unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance,” the according to CDC guidelines.
The CDC said it recognized that in “some specific instances,” wearing a face covering may not be feasible, such as if it is likely to contribute to heat-related illness, for those who care for others and depend on lip reading for communication.
Nonetheless, Los Angeles County Public Health officials issued a statement on Friday in response to several “fake” certificates that had been circulating claiming the bearers were exempt from mask requirements due to medical issues.
“These flyers and cards are not from a government agency and are not endorsed by the (California) Department of Justice or any Los Angeles County department,” the statement said.
Federal officials also urged the public not to wear a mask if it has become wet, as it may make breathing difficult.
Authorities also urged members of the public to use cloth face coverings, leaving surgical masks and respirators available for medical personnel.
The effectiveness of face shields, as opposed to masks, remains unclear, according to the CDC. Whether they protect the wearer and others from respiratory particles remains unknown. Therefore, they are not recommended as a substitute for cloth masks.
“Some people may choose to use a face shield when sustained close contact with other people is expected,” the CDC statement said. “If face shields are used without a mask, they should wrap around the sides of the wearer’s face and extend to below the chin.”
Disposable face shields should be used only once, and reusable shields should be washed after each use.