Covid-19: Why Wearing a Mask can Save Lives and Secure your Community - Isabella Health Foundation

Covid-19: Why Wearing a Mask can Save Lives and Secure your Community

By: Josh Lowe

Josh Lowe is a freelance writer and editor specializing in public policy and social affairs.

As more folks take to wearing face masks to tackle the spread of Covid-19, streets, buses, and shops can sometimes seem like a scene out of a disaster movie. 

Uncomfortable, hard to get hold of, even downright creepy looking: masks can feel like a nuisance. But the evidence is clear — wearing one will help to prevent the spread of the virus. It will protect the lives of the people you love and preserve your community through one of the most testing periods in modern history. 

This Q+A article is a quick, easy guide explaining everything you need to know about facemasks during Covid-19. We hope you find it helpful. 

Why do I need to wear a mask?

One of the difficult things about Covid-19 — the disease caused by the Coronavirus currently sweeping the globe — is that people who have it often don’t feel or seem ill. 

In fact, as many as 40% — almost half — of people infected with the Coronavirus might have no symptoms. 

And yet, explains Stanford University researcher Larry Chu, these people can still pass the virus on to others. 

When you talk, cough, or sneeze, you push little droplets out of your body and into the air. Once there, they evaporate and leave particles. 

If you’re infected with Coronavirus, those tiny particles can contain the virus and may linger around, meaning others breathe them in. 

But if you’re wearing a mask, then the mask can catch many of these droplets before they get out into the air. So the virus stays on your body rather than leaping on to passersby. 

Countries which got people to wear masks early in the pandemic did better than other countries at slowing down the spread of the disease, according to another Stanford researcher called Amy Price.

Where and when should I wear a mask?

According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — the federal government’s agency for tackling diseases — you should wear a mask “in public settings and when around people who don’t live in your household”.

They say it’s particularly important “when other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain”. You’ll probably know what they mean if you’ve spent time in a small shop lately, for example. 

It’s important to mention that we don’t know whether wearing a face mask stops you from getting the virus from someone else. 

That means, while you might want to wear a mask when caring for someone who is sick with the virus, you can’t be sure if it will protect you from getting infected.

“To prevent getting sick,” the CDC says, “Caregivers should also continue to practice everyday preventive actions: avoid close contact as much as possible, clean hands often; avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands; and frequently clean and disinfect surfaces.”

The CDC also advises that you shouldn’t wear a face mask when you’re doing something that might get it wet, such as swimming. And people who are running or doing other exercise might find it hard to breathe in a mask.

It’s therefore especially important to keep as much distance as possible from others during these activities. 

Is there anyone who doesn’t need to wear a mask?

The CDC says that wearing a mask could be dangerous for children under two years old, people who have trouble breathing, and for “anyone who is unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove the cloth face covering without assistance”.

These people should not wear masks.

What kind of mask should I wear, and how should I wear it?

You should just purchase or make a simple cloth face covering. 

Doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals can be seen wearing proper surgical masks, or even high-tech “respirators”, when dealing with Covid-19. 

But the CDC says that these critical pieces of kit should be left for the professionals, who need to make sure they have enough supplies to protect themselves on shift. 

You can buy cloth face masks in a range of stores, or if you need assistance with purchasing a face mask you can contact Isabella Health Foundation for assistance. 

You can also make your own. The CDC website has instructions for both sewn and not sewn coverings. 

Their sewn masks are fairly simple to produce. But if you don’t have access to the materials you need to make them, you can make a non-sewn alternative using everyday household items like old t shirts and elastic bands. 

The Mayo Clinic has published some tips for wearing a cloth face mask:

  • “Place your mask over your mouth and nose.
  • Tie it behind your head or use ear loops and make sure it’s snug.
  • Don’t touch your mask while wearing it.
  • If you accidentally touch your mask, wash or sanitize your hands.
  • Remove the mask by untying it or lifting off the ear loops without touching the front of the mask or your face.
  • Wash your hands immediately after removing your mask.
  • Regularly wash your mask with soap and water in the washing machine. It’s fine to launder it with other clothes.”
What if I can’t wear a cloth face mask?

Some folks will struggle with wearing a mask, and the CDC has suggestions for how they can adapt.

People who are deaf or hard of hearing, or care for someone who is, and who rely on lipreading to communicate might struggle with wearing a mask. 

The CDC suggests they use a clear face covering if one is available and, if not, “consider whether you can use written communication, use closed captioning, or decrease background noise to make communication possible”.

If you have, or someone you care for has, intellectual and developmental disabilities, mental health conditions or other sensory sensitivities that make wearing a mask hard, talk to your healthcare provider for advice.

Preschool or early elementary aged kids might find it tricky to wear a mask for extended periods. You should make sure their mask fits properly, remind them often about the importance of wearing one, and at least prioritize getting them to wear a mask when it’s hard to maintain a distance of six feet from others. 

And if you work a job where heat-related illnesses or other safety hazards could arise if you wear a mask, you should talk to an occupational health professional to discuss the best alternative. 

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