I originally was not going to write about masks and when, or even if, you should wear them as their everyday usage provides little benefit or even possible harm (more on that later). Then New York and Connecticut’s governors mandated that people had to wear a mask or cloth covering when social distancing was not possible – in stores or public transportation. What was once a free choice is now an order, something we are used to seeing in totalitarian regimes like China – not in the United States of America.
Before continuing it is important to clarify what actually qualifies as a mask these days and what they are intended for. The state executive orders mandating mask wearing are not referring to N95 masks or surgical (medical) masks, these are to be saved for individuals in healthcare. The orders are referring to masks or cloth coverings, in other words, makeshift masks made in various ways out of various materials. There are instructions and a video on the CDC’s (Centers for Disease Control) website demonstrating how to make a mask out of cotton sheets, for example. That’s right, the sheets you sleep in every night – the CDC is saying they are going to help reduce the spread of SARS-CoV-2. The evidence that the CDC cites for using these masks is not based on their efficacy (like you would think) but on the fact of asymptomatic transmission which has been document with COVID-19. They are not meant to protect the user of the mask but rather the other people in the mask-wearers vicinity as it is assumed to decrease the amount of virus a potentially infected/asymptomatic person projects during their normal breathing, talking, etc. The only problem is that these recommendation are based on assumptions, not evidence.
The scientific backing for mass mask wearing is scanty to none. There have been studies exploring the filtration ability of various materials in simulated settings with some positive and some negative results. It is a mistake for officials to translate these findings to real-world universal mask mandates – they are not the same. In fact, the only randomized clinical trial to explore cloth masks was in a healthcare setting and they found them likely to be more harmful or have no effect rather than having any benefit. This is part of the reason that the WHO (World Health Organization), contrary to the US’s CDC, does not recommend mass mask wearing. Some have argued that having everyone wear masks reminds each other to practice social distancing and other effective measures. Personally, I have seen masks (not just cloth/makeshift masks but masks in general) lead to relaxed behaviors and more people touching their face which can actually increase the spread of SARS-CoV-2. While makeshift/cloth masks likely don’t work, even if they did, it would still depend heavily on people being highly cognizant of hand hygiene, not touching their face, proper donning and doffing of masks, frequent and consistent mask decontamination, and social distancing – a very tall order for anyone.
This is general information only and not intended to diagnose or treat your specific health or medical conditions. If you have a specific health or medical condition consult with your healthcare professional. You can also contact Dr. Pintauro directly.