Masking to Slow the Spread: Tips from The Good Doctor

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May 7, 2020

COVID-19: Good Advice from The Good Doctor

These days it seems like everywhere we look, we’re flooded with information about COVID-19 – from the best ways to protect ourselves against infection to the latest on potential treatment options and vaccines. While more information can be a good thing, sometimes it can be hard to cut through the clutter and get straight to the facts.

In a series we’re calling The Good Doctor, Dr. J. Kevin Croston, CEO of North Memorial Health is helping us make sense of COVID-19. Here, we’re discussing a topic that seems to be generating a lot of questions lately – masks.

woman wearing cloth mask

Why do I need to wear a mask?

What most people don’t understand is that the purpose of a mask is NOT primarily to protect the person wearing it. “Coughing, sneezing or even simply speaking to someone nearby can cause the virus to spread. By wearing a mask you’re helping to prevent spread and protect the people around you,” Dr. Croston says.

“Even if you don’t have symptoms, it’s still important to wear a mask. You may have the virus but be asymptomatic, meaning you have no symptoms of the virus, or you could be pre-symptomatic, meaning that you aren’t showing symptoms yet. In either case you probably wouldn’t realize that you’re contagious.”

What kind of mask do I need?

Is medical grade equipment necessary? The short answer is no. “The CDC recommends using a simple cloth face covering to help slow the spread of the virus to others,” Dr. Croston says. Cloth masks can be made at home from common materials and secured with ties or loops. Here are some simple guidelines:

  1. It should be snug but comfortable against the side of the face.
  2. You should be able to throw them in the wash without damaging them or changing their shape.
  3. It should include multiple layers of fabric.

Here’s a pattern that we like.

When do I need to wear a mask?

It’s important to wear a face covering in public spaces, especially when it may be a challenge to maintain the “social distancing” requirement of six feet apart– such as a trip to a grocery store or pharmacy, or whenever you’re in a community setting with people who are not in your household.

Wearing a mask doesn’t mean you can relax the other everyday preventative actions. “Wearing a mask is even more effective when combined with other healthy habits,” says Dr. Croston. “We have to continue to practice social distancing and wash our hands. A lot. Masks are just one more precaution and should not be the only one you rely on.” Dr. Croston adds people should be careful not to touch their eyes, nose or mouth, and to be sure to wash their hands immediately after taking off a mask.

Who shouldn’t wear a mask?

“Cloth masks aren’t for everyone, especially not kids under two or people who have trouble breathing” says Dr. Croston. “In general if someone is unable to manage a mask themselves, they shouldn’t wear one.”

Should we use other protective equipment? Like gloves?

Not necessarily. Gloves are important if you’re interacting with someone who is sick with COVID-19, or if you’re a healthcare worker. “Otherwise, there’s no reason to wear medical gloves for everyday activities,” says Dr. Croston. “Use disposable gloves when you’re cleaning or disinfecting common areas but otherwise just keeping washing your hands with soap and water. Wash them for 20 seconds at least, and make sure you follow good handwashing practices.”

The Good Doctor’s Top 5 Tips for Wearing Masks

  1. Keep your distance. Masks are NOT a substitute for social distancing. You still need to stay at least six feet away from others in a community setting.
  2. Wash your hands frequently. And that includes after taking off your mask or gloves.
  3. Wash your mask/face covering regularly. It’s fine to put them in the washing machine, but make sure that they aren’t changing shape or damaged in some way after cleaning.
  4. Wear gloves anytime you have to handle their laundry, trash, dishes or belongings of a person infected with COVID-19.
  5. Don’t assume everyone should wear a mask. Cloth face coverings for small children and some adults are not a good idea.

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