Los Angeles,
07
April
2020
|
03:00 PM
America/Los_Angeles

COVID-19 Update: Should You Wear a Mask?

As the COVID-19 pandemic rapidly evolves, health authorities have been updating their guidance to reflect the changing situation. The latest example: masks.

Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and some state and local authorities previously told the public to skip the masks, they recently updated that advice and began recommending that members of the public wear masks when outside of their homes.

Why the change?

"The world we're living in now is very different from the world we were living in a month ago when there were very few cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. and infection control strategy was focused on containing the spread, identifying infected individuals and isolating them," said infectious diseases specialist Michael Ben-Aderet, MD. "This is no longer just an imported illness. There's ongoing community spread, and our strategy has to shift so we can do everything we can to slow that spread."

Cedars-Sinai Newsroom recently spoke with Ben-Aderet, who is associate director of Hospital Epidemiology at Cedars-Sinai, to clarify the updated guidance on wearing masks in a public setting.

Michael Ben-Aderet, MD
Wearing a mask in public is not a substitute for social distancing, frequent hand washing and avoiding touching your face. Wearing a mask is one piece of a larger infection control policy. It doesn't replace any other recommendations, it's just another piece of the pie.
Michael Ben-Aderet, MD

Why should people wear masks in public?

Wearing a mask will keep respiratory secretions within that barrier and help protect others if you're sick with COVID-19, even if you have minimal or no symptoms. It's also a helpful reminder not to touch your face.

Why has this guidance changed?

To be clear, the science around masks themselves hasn't changed. The situation has changed, and as a result, authorities are issuing updated guidelines. We're in the middle of a fast-moving pandemic, and the state of the world is far different than it was a month ago. The scientific community, health agencies and healthcare providers are continuously reviewing all available data and making real-time recommendations as the situation evolves. Given there is now a high prevalence of COVID-19 in the community and the understanding that individuals with COVID-19 may be contagious even if they are not showing any symptoms, it now makes sense for all individuals to be wearing a face covering to help prevent the spread of droplets that might be infectious.

What kinds of masks should people wear when they're out in public?

Outside of healthcare settings, people should use a simple mask that can be secured to your face, covers your mouth and nose and keeps respiratory droplets in. People out in public are already using a variety of different masks, including cloth masks. It could be a hand-sewn mask with ear loops or head ties, or something as simple as a scarf wrapped around your face. The idea is to create a physical barrier that contains droplets you might produce when coughing, sneezing or even talking. The masks the public should be wearing are not respirators that filter air, and they do not need to be air-tight. They simply need to be a secure, physical barrier.

Are there any guidelines from reliable resources that can guide people in selecting a face covering?

Absolutely. You can find great guidelines from the CDC as well as local and state agencies, such as the County of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health and the California Department of Public Health.

Should you use the types of masks that healthcare workers use?

In these times of major medical supply shortages, medical-grade masks—such as N95 masks and surgical masks—should be reserved for healthcare providers. When you're out in public, you don't need to wear the same kinds of masks worn by healthcare providers, who are constantly in close contact with very sick individuals. Out in the community, you're wearing a mask to avoid contaminating others while also practicing social distancing. You just need an effective physical barrier.

Does wearing a mask mean you can stand closer to people, hang out in large groups or gather with friends in their homes?

Wearing a mask in public is not a substitute for social distancing, frequent hand washing and avoiding touching your face. Wearing a mask is one piece of a larger infection control policy. It doesn't replace any other recommendations, it's just another piece of the pie.

How often should you care for a reusable mask?

It's a good idea to wash it after each use, or at least daily, with hot water and laundry detergent and run it through a hot dry cycle in the dryer. Wash your hands before putting on or taking off a mask—remember, you're touching your face. Keep in mind that if you are sick and wearing a mask, you're contaminating your mask. So even if you're not showing symptoms, don't share your mask with others.