Cloth Face Coverings Support Health and Business Recovery
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings, when physical distancing is difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies). Researchers are learning more about COVID-19 every day, including that some people can unknowingly spread the virus to others before they have symptoms or spread the virus to others without ever having symptoms. This is why maintaining physical distancing from others is effective in slowing the spread of COVID-19. Now that businesses are slowly starting to open as part of the Safe Start Washington recovery plan, it will be increasingly difficult to maintain 6-feet of distance from others, especially in indoor public places. Wearing a cloth face covering can help slow the spread of COVID-19 in these instances.
Initially, Face Masks Were Discouraged
Early in the pandemic, the public was discouraged from using face masks because there was a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE), and face masks needed to be reserved for health care workers. In addition, the science did not support that wearing cloth face coverings protected people from getting the virus the way medical-grade N-95 or surgical face masks can. These medical-grade masks still need to be reserved for health care settings, however the science about how the virus is spread has changed the recommendations for the public’s use of cloth face coverings. Since people can have the virus without having symptoms, they may be unaware of the need to isolate themselves at home when they are infectious. When a face covering is worn by someone infected with COVID-19, it can help prevent the spread of virus to others by blocking infectious droplets that scatter into the air when someone coughs, sneezes, or speaks.
Individual Behavior Can Reduce the Spread
Recent research demonstrates how individual behavior changes can dramatically reduce rates of COVID-19 cases in countries where there has been good voluntary compliance. In a Hong Kong survey, “85 percent of respondents reported avoiding crowded places and 99 percent reported wearing face masks when leaving home.” These behaviors, along with other public health measures like contact tracing and temporary travel restrictions, “were associated with reduced transmission of COVID-19 in Hong Kong, and are also likely to have substantially reduced influenza transmission in early February 2020.”
Masks Are Worn to Protect Others
Some people argue that cloth face covering use can be detrimental to a person’s health because it can harbor bacteria and viruses as well as let some airborne particles pass through to the wearer. Remember, wearing a cloth face covering is not intended to protect the wearer from COVID-19. The goal of the cloth face covering is to minimize the amount of potentially infectious airborne droplets you can project in the air and unknowingly spread to others when you cough, sneeze, or speak. It does not capture all droplets, but it captures a large majority of them. It is still important to try to maintain a 6-foot distance from others as much as you can, but in situations where social distancing cannot be maintained, face coverings can help slow the spread of disease when worn properly. In addition, face coverings are a visual reminder for all of us to maintain our distance from others and practice good hygiene habits. As with any article of clothing, germs can collect on cloth face coverings.
The following recommendations can help avoid contaminating the hands and face of the user when wearing a cloth face covering:
Before putting on or after removing a cloth face covering, clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer or soap and water.
Make sure the face covering fits snugly under the chin and on the sides of face, covering the nose and mouth.
While in use, avoid touching the face covering, which may be contaminated with infectious agents. Use the ear loops or ties to put on and remove the masks.
Change face coverings when moist and wash after use.
Health Officer Directive
Cloth face coverings are effective in limiting the spread of potentially infectious airborne droplets from one person to another. For this reason, Spokane County Health Officer Dr. Bob Lutz, issued a directive strongly recommending the use of cloth face coverings by all Spokane County residents at indoor or confined public settings where they are not able to maintain six feet distance from other people. In addition, effective June 8, all employees in Washington are required to wear a cloth facial covering, except when working alone in an office, vehicle, or at a job site, or when the job has no in-person interaction. Employers must provide cloth facial coverings to employees, unless their exposure dictates a higher level of protection. Employees may choose to wear their own facial covering at work, provided it meets the minimum requirements.