By Heather M. Butts, JD, MPH, MA
At the beginning of COVID-19, mask-wearing was introduced with some confusion, due in part to the evolving information, and then because of the lack of availability of high-quality masks. The importance of wearing masks as the pandemic has continued is difficult to deny, but some continue to do so. The consequences of ignoring the life-saving role of mask-wearing can endanger not only you, but those around you.
While there is absolutely no evidence that wearing masks increases respiratory infections, including COVID-19, there is substantial evidence that masks, when worn properly, play an important role—along with proper vaccination—in reducing your chances of being infected.
Dr. Cameron Webb, J.D., M.D., a senior policy advisor for COVID-19 Equity on the White House Response Team, told the AmNews that, “in terms of the masking piece, there’s just no basis in fact that it’s causing the illnesses that we’re seeing…It’s just a dynamic epidemiologically that we must acknowledge and say there’s more risks now. Still, I would say it’s a good reason to encourage folks to wear masks.”
Elizabeth Wrigley-Fields, Ph.D., an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota, talked to the AmNews about masks as one of several tools, including air quality, ventilation, and filtration, to protect against infections. “Masks right now are an important way that we can keep ourselves and each other safe,” she said. “Masking in a public context that everybody needs to be able to access, like grocery stores and schools, is a way that those spaces can be accessible to everyone, regardless of their level of risk.”
Webb added that “I want to disavow us of that notion that masks are somehow the boogeyman or somehow a bad thing. In a lot of countries, mask-wearing is normalized in cold and flu season and the reason is that it prevents you from getting sick. That’s one of the ways you can help do that, so I think that, again, it’s a little bit of an ideological reset for us. We don’t need to polarize masks or politicize masks or vaccines. Everybody’s just trying to stay healthy during these months, and those are some of the tools we must do just that.”
According to the Mayo Clinic in their article Myth: Wearing a cloth mask does not protect you from getting COVID-19, “Countries that required face masks, testing, isolation, and social distancing early in the pandemic seem to have had some success slowing the disease’s spread… The overall number of droplets in the air is reduced when more people wear masks, and this reduces the risk of being exposed to COVID-19.”
Authors Kimberly M. Dickinson, MD, MPH & Theresa W. Guilbert, MD, MS, FAAP squarely tackle this myth in their article “Mask Mythbusters: Common Questions about Kids & Face Masks”: “ No. Wearing a face mask does not weaken your immune system or increase your chances of getting sick if exposed to the COVID-19 virus. Wearing a mask, even if you do not have symptoms of COVID-19, helps prevent the virus from spreading. Another benefit of wearing masks is that they may keep people from touching their mouths and faces, which is another way COVID, colds, flu and RSV, and other respiratory diseases are spread.”
For additional resources about COVID-19, visit www1.nyc.gov/site/coronavirus/index.page or call 311. COVID-19 testing, masks, and vaccination resources can also be accessed on the AmNews COVID-19 page: www.amsterdamnews.com/covid/
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