Will facemasks cause more harm than good?
-- “In conclusion, while wearing a mask is an individual’s choice, understanding the level of protection and transmission is key. These masks offer no additional protection to the common-sense public health measures of social distancing, and, most importantly, frequent hand washing."
-- The problem here is if you sneeze, breath, drool, etc into your cloth mask it may trap some viruses, but if you don’t clean it, or dispose of it, you have created a breeding ground of sickness that you are strapping onto your face each day.
On May 13, 2020 Governor Michelle Lujan-Grisham announced that she was making it mandatory for every New Mexican to wear a facemask in public. Her hope is that it will help to stem the tide of COVID-9. The governor is basing this upon CDC guidelines. But do facemasks protect you from COVID-19?
In an op-ed to the Albuquerque Journal on May 10, 2020, UNM Doctor Lawrence Gernon (Professor of Global Health, Global National Security and Policy Institute) makes the following statement regarding cloth masks:
“In conclusion, while wearing a mask is an individual’s choice, understanding the level of protection and transmission is key. These masks offer no additional protection to the common-sense public health measures of social distancing, and, most importantly, frequent hand washing."
He presents statistics and facts that you need to know about that cloth facemask you are now required to wear. I agree with Dr. Gernon that there is real concern that the public will get a false sense of security by wearing these cloth masks and therefore possibly be lax in social distancing, washing hands and keeping fingers away from your face.
Up until now, Governor Grisham and the New Mexico Department of Health have done a stellar job of informing the public how they can protect themselves from COVID-19. But when it comes to facemasks the governor needs to repeatedly remind New Mexicans that wearing a cloth mask is not meant to replace social distancing, hand washing and keeping fingers from your face. The facemask order is such a lighting rod for controversy that I am sure it will become the major issue, instead of social distancing, hand washing and keeping your fingers off your face.
In a study of disposable medical masks and reusable cloth masks (washed each day), done by the University of New South Wales by Raina MacIntyre (2015 in Hanoi, Vietnam), the conclusion was that those who wore cloth masks were significantly more likely to catch a virus.
Other studies have shown a minimal benefit to wearing a face covering, but only if the covering is cleaned properly and worn correctly. How many of you wash your cloth face mask after each use? Or at least daily? If you wear a disposable mask are you throwing it away after every use? Or do you wear it multiple times? Does your mask fit tightly around your nose and mouth? Are you touching your mask?
Cloth and disposable masks are not designed like the N95 masks that hospital workers wear. The cloth and disposable masks are designed to keep germs from your nose and mouth in your mask. They do not provide good protection from breathing them in from others. The problem here is if you sneeze, breath, drool, etc into your cloth mask it may trap some viruses, but if you don’t clean it, or dispose of it, you have created a breeding ground of sickness that you are strapping onto your face each day. And when you touch that mask you may be transporting the germs onto your hands and from there to others when you touch anything.
My advice to the reader is to follow the governor’s guidelines, they are the roadmap for staying healthy. But do not be lulled into a false sense of security by wearing a cloth or disposable facemask. They will probably not trap the minuscule COVID-19 virus and if you don’t clean, or dispose of them properly, you run the risk of making yourself ill.
What will defiantly keep you safe is to continue practicing social distancing, wash your hands frequently and keep your fingers away from your face. Wear your cloth or disposable mask as instructed but clean it or throw it away after each use. Don’t let your guard down just because you have a mask on, that false sense of security can make you, your family, your friends, and strangers sick or dead.
In slightly over seventy days COVID-19 has killed well over 80,000 Americans. This is serious.
(On May 11 I reached out to the New Mexico Department of Health for comment regarding Dr. Gernon’s op-ed, but I received no response by the time this went to print. If the NMDOH does response we will post their response in full).