Doctors explain why you should wear a mask

Local physicians agree wearing a mask is one of the most important things you can do to protect yourself from getting sick.

But why is it important? How does it work?

"The coronavirus is spread from person to person primarily via respiratory droplets expelled when we are in close proximity to others," explained Dr. Joseph Weigel, program director of the Internal Medicine Residency Program at Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital. "Those droplets can hang in the air, especially indoors in poorly ventilated spaces. So, blocking the dispersal of such droplets with a mask is a good strategy for cutting down on transmission."

To support the difference they can make, Weigel cited the results of a study by the Centers for Disease Control that took place in Kansas, where counties had the option to opt out of a statewide mask mandate. In the state, 24 of the most populous counties opted to abide by the mandate and 81 opted out.

"In the counties where masks were required, there was a 6 percent reduction in COVID cases per 100,000 people," Weigel said. "In the counties where they weren't required, there was a 100 percent increase per 100,000 people."

Local doctors recommend wearing cloth masks made with high-quality cotton with multiple layers or ones in which filters can be inserted.

"Inserting a filter is just going to be another barrier so it's more effective," said Dr. Ashley Harris, an internal medical physician who rotates on LCRH's COVID unit. "And the ones that have the wire on the top of the nose, they make a better seal. It makes it more comfortable so people are more likely to wear them."

As for gators or bananas, "they're better than nothing, but definitely not ideal," Harris said.

Recent numbers show a scarf or bandana is about 10 percent protective; a high-quality, thick cotton mask can be up to 30 percent protective; a surgical mask is about 60 percent protective; and N-95 masks are up to 95 percent protective.

Those percentages were promoted by Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, in a recent op-ed piece in The Wall Street Journal.

Weigel noted surgical masks are not as difficult to purchase as they were at the beginning of the pandemic.

"People who wish to achieve a higher level of protection can make those things available to themselves should they choose to do so," he said.

Dr. Steven Eberly, a local radiologist, acknowledges the importance of wearing a mask runs counter to what was initially recommended by the Centers for Disease Control.

"The CDC definitely got it wrong when they recommended not wearing masks back in the spring," he said. "Therein lies some of the basic confusion amongst the public. But while they were initially wrong, they've corrected their recommendation. They have called it a 'novel' coronavirus for a reason: no one had seen it before, and no one knew how it behaved. Now we have months of scientific research into the behavior of the virus."

Eberly said it is important to wear your mask "indoors always" and outside "when you can't separate by at least six feet."

Children over the age of 2 should also wear masks, said Kimberly King, a nurse practitioner at Somerset Pediatrics.

"A lot of parents are worried their children will fight them and not like it," she said. "But it's just a matter of practicing, like you would with any new skill you're teaching your children. You have to do something repeatedly for them to learn and get used to it. Take time throughout the day, show them how you wear yours. The more you do this the more children will be at ease and it won't be such a challenge."

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