HealthCommentary

Exploring Human Potential

The Mask – When Not To Cover Up and Why.

Posted on | March 5, 2020 | No Comments

Mike Magee

If you want to know what American consumers are obsessing on these days, just check out Amazon searches. There you will discover that the tag “N95 mask” has had more than a million hits over the past month.

It seems we have transferred all of our fears, and hopes of protecting ourselves and loved ones from COVID 19, to some form of this iconic, to the point that health professionals in hospitals and outpatient settings are nervous about their own dwindling supplies.

Obvious missteps and trust gaps related to our President and his administration haven’t been helpful. Health professionals in and out of government, through various communication work-arounds, have tried to settle things down – sometimes clumsily. For example, Surgeon General Jerome Adams tweet “Seriously people- STOP BUYING MASKS!” felt a bit like it had come out of the Mick Mulvaney “GET OVER IT!” school of crisis communication.

That said, masks can be a bit confusing, and that comes from someone who spent more than a few years wearing one as part of his daily stints in operating rooms. So here are the quick facts:

1. Two types of masks: There are a) surgical masks that fit loosely and prevent transmission through large droplets emitted by sneezing or coughing; and b) respirator masks that fit tightly, requiring sizing and adjusting, and can prevent transmission of smaller microorganisms like the ones that cause measles and chickenpox.

2. Who should make priority use of a mask?  Two types of people: a) Health care workers who are in frequent contact with infected individuals; and b) patients with symptoms of respiratory infection, and suspect or proven COVID 19 patients.

3. If not masks, than what? The basics are now essential:

a) Frequent hand washing. Soap and water for 20 seconds is very effective, more so than hand sanitizers.

b) Stop touching your face – that’s harder than it sounds, but quite essential.

c) Keep surfaces at home and at work clean and sanitary.

d) Avoid  close contact with sick individuals – challenging during the flu season.

e) Isolate yourself if you are sick. Stay put – close to home and limit non-essential travel.

Last piece of advice for doctors, nurses and other health professionals who are charged not only with caring for all of us, but also help all Americans process their fear and worry during these worrisome times. Deliver equal measures of knowledge and reassurance.

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