Whether you work in healthcare, are a first responder, or the general public we are finding ourselves in a time when we must learn new habits to protect ourselves. The year 2020 started off with our economy the best we have ever seen. Unemployment rates were at record lows. Our lives were thriving in ways we never imagine it would be. As we were living our lives, thousands of miles away a pandemic was brewing. Most of us have only read about pandemics like the one we are currently living in. In the last 100 years we have seen the Flu Pandemic (1918), Asian Flu (1956-1958), SARS (2003), H1N1 (2009), and now Covid-19 (2020). We are finding ourselves having to uproot our lives in ways we never have imagined we would have to do. We have been told we have to practice “social distancing” by staying at least 6 feet away from others, we have resorted to shutting down restaurants, stores, factories, all in the hopes to keep this disease from spread. One thing that we have never practiced in the United States, outside of the medical field, is we are not having to wear surgical face masks while in public.
Importance of Face Masks in Public
What is the importance of wearing these medical face masks in public? When we wear face masks in public it not only helps you from getting sick, but it also helps you from getting others sick. One thing we need to understand is that there is a big difference between a virus and bacteria. Bacteria grows and grows causing us to get an infection that is centrally located to the area of growth. If you have a cut on your arm the bacteria get’s into that cut, and continues to grow. A virus on the other hand gets into your body, and will travel throughout your body making more of the virus until you get sick. This can go on for a few days to a couple of weeks. While the virus is in your body creating more, and more virus you are what we call contagious even though you have no idea that you are even sick until it is too late. The virus is transmitted through body fluids. A cloth surgical face mask will allow you to breathe safely while catching the virus within the fibers of the mask. Virus can be in your saliva, blood, semen, or any other kind of body fluid you can think of. When you breathe little water particles are exhaled into the air, or if you sneeze water particles are pushed through the air where other people breathe in introducing the virus into their system. A face mask will protect you from breathing in the virus. The other part to this is making sure you are washing our hands regularly. Virus’ can live on surfaces up to several hours to several days. Hand sanitizer is nice to use, but nothing beats washing your hands.
Cloth Mask – Are they Safer?
Essentially anything you wear to cover your face will protect you to a point. Cloth or Fabric face mask are good to help stop the water particles from getting to your mouth and nose. Is it the perfect solution, not really, but it is better than wearing nothing on our face. In all honesty the best mask to wear is an N95 mask which is designed to make a better seal around your mouth and nose to prevent anything getting in. The general public can get N95 masks, but it is not recommended to wear one unless you are fit tested to make sure it has a tight seal preventing anything getting in while allowing you to breathe normally. For most of the society it is best to wear a cloth or fabric style medical mask to help keep you and others safe. Wearing the mask wrong is not advised. In public, I see a lot of people wearing the mask just over their mouth or under their chin. This will not protect you so make sure if you wear any mask you are wearing it over your mouth and nose. Studies have shown that wearing a surgical mask over your nose and mouth will interrupt the airborne particles from going through the air if you were to cough or sneeze. The mask obviously will not protect your eyes so again make sure you are washing your hands regularly, and do not touch your eyes, mouth or nose with your hands as this is allowing any bacteria or virus to enter the body.
How to wash my surgical mask
Best practice is to hand wash lightly your cloth surgical mask with soap and water, and then hang to dry. You can put it in the washing machine and dryer, but if you don’t wash it on a gentle cycle studies have found that over time frequent washing breaks down the cloth mask making it less likely to protect you. Sanitizing by UV light is another way to help protect your mask, and keep it clean. The problem is you wanna make sure you are washing it. UV light will help, but nothing beats a good washing.
How to Protect yourself
As we are all aware the best way to protect ourselves is to stay home if we feel ill. But we can’t shut our lives down completely. Many of us have to work, buy groceries, take care of our children. The best we can do is try our best to not get other people sick. The best thing to do is wash your hands as often as possible. You want to wash your hands after touching raw meat, shopping carts, using the toilet, after you cough or sneeze into your hands. If you do sneeze or cough make sure you bring your arm up and do it into your elbow. This way your hands stay clean so you don’t spread your germs to other people. Wear a cloth face mask if you feel you might be sick.
Staying Safe in our daily lives
During my travels in Vietnam, I always wondered why everyone wore a face mask in the Asian culture. What I found through my travels is that the air quality is very poor in most third world countries. The Asian people wear the mask to prevent themselves breathing in the dirty air from all the cars and motorbikes that are on the road. We are very fortunate here in the United States as we take air quality very serious here. We tend to take for granted the cleanliness of our streets, air, and water. The best way to protect yourself and others, is to wash your hands multiple times a day, cough and sneeze into your elbow, and stay home if you are sick. If you have to go out don’t be ashamed or afraid to wear a mask. Just remember if you wear a mask in public you might just save someone’s life, or possibly your own.
Many people took to their sewing machine, and started to make handmade masks to donate to the local nursing homes, hospitals, and local business. Let’s help reward these individuals for their hard work, and purchase one of their masks to show them how much we appreciate all their time and effort.