Today the Cleveland Clinic tweeted that face masks play a role in containing the spread of Coronavirus. As detailed in an article by Dr. Michael Morgenstern, titled Coronavirus Answer is Right Under Your Nose, wearing a face mask plays a role in the source control–preventing transmission of infection from sick individuals–and allows healthy individuals to prevent themselves from getting infected. In their tweet the Cleveland Clinic says that you should wear a mask 1) If you are sick –I agree. 2) If you are caring for someone else who is sick but not wearing a mask–I partially agree, since I would advise wearing a mask when taking care of someone is sick. But they stop short of advising wearing a mask if you are caring for someone who is sick and is already wearing a mask.
Do you think, for one second, that if you walk into a ward in the Cleveland Clinic, where doctors have “sick patients” that are wearing masks, that the doctors or any staff members will go within 10 feet of a patient without wearing a mask? They are more likely to be wearing a Hazmat suit!
We need to start asking the public health actors out there the one word question my daughter always asks me: Why? Why don’t you think I need a mask in public if I might be exposed to sick people? Why are you wearing a mask if I don’t have Coronavirus? What is the risk of wearing a mask? What is the risk of not wearing a mask?
People don’t know if they are sick. If we could rely on individuals to self diagnose, we wouldn’t need Coronavirus tests or any other tests for that matter. The bottom line is that people are catching this disease at a rapid pace, and while I’m no mathematician, if I can rely on the models about the rates of infection, I am fairly confident that when the average person goes outside they are going to be exposed to someone else who “IS SICK AND NOT ABLE TO WEAR A FACE MASK” because they DON’T KNOW THAT THEY ARE SICK. If masks are worn for the unknown infections (which is high) and the known infections (which are known) we can start to curtail the spread of Coronavirus.
This is why everyone who goes out in public should be wearing a mask. They should assume that it is possible that they are infected so wearing a mask will protect others. They should also understand that there is a good chance that they will be exposed any time they go out and there is going to be some protection conferred to them by wearing a mask.
Going back to the tweet provided by the Cleveland Clinic, we know of from similar Coronaviruses (SARS & MERS) that between 13% and 39% of individuals are infected by someone in their own household. If that’s the case, we should err on the side of caution and increase the level of protection for healthy caretakers. I agree that if the sick individual wears a mask it is better, as is implied by their tweet. But if both individuals wear a mask that is better than only one person. There is still a lot unknown about this virus and the best policies to stop it. I don’t claim to know everything. But I know for sure that if we save a life rather than a mask we will be better off.