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Are Masks Effective?

As the COVID-19 crisis continues into late May, organizations in charge of public health are giving out conflicting information regarding mask effectiveness and proper protocol. For citizens looking to maximize their health and stay up-to-date on the latest safety guidelines, it is crucial to understand the current guidelines given out by major public health organizations and departments and where they differ in order to stay safe during the ongoing pandemic.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), masks should only be used by healthcare workers, caretakers, and people who are sick. Healthy people, the organization sates, should only wear a mask if they are taking care of an individual with COVID-19 or if they are experiencing cough, sneezing, or a runny nose. The WHO further emphasizes that masks are only effective when used in conjunction with proper and frequent hand-washing, either with alcohol-based hand rubs or with soap and water; when used alone, the WHO says, masks can provide a false sense of protection and can even be a source of infection. Just as important, the organization warns that masks—particularly ones that are thin and disposable— are only effective when worn properly. To ensure that individuals follow proper mask safety protocols, the WHO gives the following guidelines:

• Before putting on a mask, clean hands with alcohol- based hand rub or soap and water.

• Cover mouth and nose with mask and make sure there are no gaps between your face and the mask.

• Avoid touching the mask while using it; if you do, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.

• Replace the mask with a new one as soon as it is damp. Do not re-use single- use masks.

• To remove the mask: remove it from behind (do not touch the front of mask); discard immediately in a closed bin; clean hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.

The WHO also lists some potential risks and disadvantages to the use of masks. They are:

• Non-medical or cloth masks could increase potential for COVID-19 to infect a person if the mask is contaminated by dirty hands and touched often, or kept on other parts of the face or head and then placed back over the mouth and nose

• Depending on the type of mask used, could cause difficulty in breathing

• They can lead to facial skin breakdown

• They can lead to difficulty with communicating clearly

• They can be uncomfortable to wear

• It is possible that mask use, with unclear benefits, could create a false sense of security in the wearer, leading to diminished practice of recognized beneficial preventive measures such as physical distancing and hand hygiene.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) provides different recommendations: specifically, the organization advises that everyone over two years old should wear a mask if they are in a public setting where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain. The CDC also provides guidelines on how to properly wear masks and how to wash masks after use. This information can be obtained at The Department of Public Health has its own recommendations for mask use. Specifically, according to their website, the department does not recommend that people wear masks if they are well. The department recommends that you do the following: • Wash hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds at a time.

• Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.

• Avoid close contact with people who are ill.

• Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.

• Do not reuse tissue after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose.

• Clean and disinfect surfaces that are frequently touched.

Department of Public Health District Four, which serves Troup County, does recommend that healthy individuals wear a mask. According to the department, the CDC recommends the use of face masks where social distancing is difficult to maintain.

Because slight variations exist between official guidelines, citizens are encouraged to familiarize themselves with all recommended protocols and combine them with common sense to find the proper solution for themselves and their families. Readers are encouraged to follow the instructions that have been handed down by the governor and their elected officials while practicing good hygiene.

The author of this article can be reached via email at [email protected]