Coronavirus: Should you cover your face in public?

Guidance suggests that Americans use makeshift coverings, such as T-shirts, scarves or bandanas to cover their noses and mouths

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now recommending that Americans cover their faces when leaving home, especially around other people.

Ohioans are being urged to consider wearing simple masks over their mouths in public, and locally more residents are starting to adopt the practice.

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The latest guidance suggests that Americans use makeshift coverings, such as T-shirts, scarves or bandanas to cover their noses and mouths. Medical-grade masks, especially N95 masks, are to be reserved for those on the front lines of trying to contain the pandemic.

The policy change comes as public health officials are concerned that those without symptoms can spread the virus which causes COVID-19.

President Trump sstressed that the recommendation is optional and is conceding he will not be complying with it.

On Friday, Gov. Mike DeWine said he expects to see more Ohioans wearing masks in public.

“Understanding, again, it’s not a complete protection, I think you’re going to see more and more of that, more and more of our fellow Ohioans when they decide to go out to get groceries, when they go out to pharmacies, you’re going to start seeing a lot more protection and I think that’s probably a good thing,” he said.

Non-medical masks do not protect the person wearing them, but they are seen as safeguards for others against the COVID-19 pandemic, said Dr. Glen D. Solomon, professor and chair of Internal Medicine and Neurology at Wright State University.

The virus is carried in aerosols - droplets of fluid - created when people cough, sneeze or even talk or breathe. Masks keep the droplets inside the mask if the individual is sick.

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“So I think the view of wearing the mask really needs to be thought of as protecting your neighbors, protecting everyone else in the community, but it really isn’t protecting the person who wears the mask,” he said. “The value is if you want to be a good citizen and you’re going out in the public, and you have a concern that you could be shedding the virus because maybe you were exposed somehow, then by all means, wearing a mask is a positive thing.”

While masks can prevent someone from spreading the disease, social distancing, careful hand washing, not touching faces are steps people can take to avoid catching the disease in the first place.

For weeks, the U.S. Centers for Disease, Control and Prevention discouraged non-healthcare workers from wearing masks in public, saying it doesn’t protect against COVID-19. But this week the agency said it’s rethinking that stand because there’s concern that people who don’t show symptoms may be unknowingly spreading it. In addition, there is some evidence that masks helped slow the spread of the disease in some countries in Asia and Europe.

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The downside of wearing the masks are that people will touch their faces more often because masks are uncomfortable, and they’re not used to wearing them, Solomon said. People could also get exposed to the virus if someone else touches their mask, he said.

“So, there is some rather small downside but the real downside is that the concern is two-fold,” Solomon said. “One is that we don’t want people in the community using up medical masks that our nurses, our doctors or people who are working in the hospital settings need. The second issue is we don’t want people to get a false sense that they’re protecting themselves and that they let their guard down about the other things they need to do like hand hygiene and keeping their distance from other people.”

Homemade masks can be effective against spreading the virus to others. So Solomon applauds area volunteers who are making homemade masks and donating them to people to wear in non-medical settings. Scarves and bandanas also have some benefits, although they are not as effective, he said.

What do local people think of wearing masks?

Army veteran Robert Preston of Fairborn said he’s been taking extra precautions to protect himself from getting infected. On Friday morning while shopping at the Fairborn Kroger grocery store, he wore a mask and gloves. Preston believe others should do the same.

“I think they ought to pass a law for everyone to wear them,” he said.

Kris Gaier of Beavercreek also wore a mask to Kroger. He recently started wearing one when he heard that the CDC was considering recommending that people wear masks for protection, Gaier said.

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State says masks can help

In previous press briefings, Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton has talked about the benefits of people wearing homemade masks or even bandanas over their mouths and noses while in public. This could help prevent asymptomatic people from unknowingly spreading the virus, she has said.

In some Asian nations — including South Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore — mask wearing became common practice, according to the Chicago Tribune. In Europe, the Czech Republic went so far as to require that people wear masks when they venture from their homes. Public health officials in those nations contend that widespread mask use limited the scope of their outbreaks, or “flattened the curve” in pandemic parlance.

Medical professionals are taking notice, and some are now pressing for more frequent mask wearing. Writing in the British medical journal The Lancet, a group of scientists suggested “universal use of face masks could be considered if supplies permit.”

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The supply question is key, especially amid a grave shortage of the masks used by front-line medical workers in the United States. Advocates say they aren’t encouraging people to buy specialized N95 respirator masks or even regular surgical masks. Clean, homemade cloth masks that cover the nose and mouth will do the trick, they say.

“I think if everyone used masks, it would decrease the amount of transmission of the virus,” said Dr. Rahul Khare, CEO of the Innovative Express Care immediate care facility in Chicago. “By putting a face mask over your nose and mouth, you’re decreasing the amount of the virus particles and therefore decreasing transmission rates.”

Reporter Laura Bischoff contributed to this report.

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