On April 3, 2020, to stop the spread of COVID-19, the CDC recommended the general public wear cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies) especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.
Cloth masks, social distancing, and frequent hand washing are key public health strategies to minimize the risk of transmission of the highly contagious novel coronavirus called COVID-19.
The COVID-19 pandemic is the first modern pandemic, and together, we are all learning the power and limitations of science. The most brilliant men and women in the world are working hard to understand how to STOP COVID-19, and while there is much effort and motivation, it is clear that there are no easy answers.
Face masks have been used to reduce the transmission of airborne viruses for many years. For example, in Hong Kong, Korea, Taiwan, China, Japan, it is commonplace to see people wearing a face mask. In some cases, because the wearer is feeling ill and trying to protect others, and in some cases, because the wearer is trying to reduce exposure and likelihood of catching an airborne disease.
When COVID-19 was first identified as a deadly new threat, China immediately required citizens to start wearing face masks in public. Without hesitation, the Chinese citizens complied. Other countries followed China's lead. In Europe, the Czech Republic was quick to embrace cloth masks as a public health policy. In March 2020, an informative video #Masks4ALL was produced in the Czech Republic.
It is clear that cloth masks make a difference. Countries including South Korea, Taiwan, Czech Republic, have all experienced less COVID-19 cases, fewer deaths, and less economic hardship than the US. On an absolute and a per capita basis.
The face mask policy is especially important with the COVID-19 virus. With COVID-19, an individual can be asymptomatic (display no symptoms) and still be contagious. Experts believe individuals are most contagious 2-3 days prior to experiencing symptoms. Meaning that a child, teenager, or adult can feel totally normal and not display any symptoms, and still, they would be spreading the virus. CDC recommends everyone to wear cloth face masks in public.
COVID-19 is a respiratory virus that can be exhaled via droplets through normal breathing or talking. Yes, coughing is more dangerous, but the risk of transmission when an infected individual is simply breathing in proximity of others, can lead to transmission from one person to another. This attribute of COVID-19 is why social distancing and masks are so important. Masks stop exhaled droplets.
While there is no easy solution to STOP COVID-19, it is clear that widespread use of face masks is an effective strategy and anyone who chooses to not wear a mask is increasing the risk for everyone that he or she comes in contact with.
In the USA, the CDC, and leading researchers and medical professionals have encouraged Americans to wear cloth face masks when in public spaces to reduce the spread of COVID-19. In California, NY, and other states, governors have used executive orders to require masks. While wearing a cloth mask may seem odd at first, and inconvenient, we know that countries with widespread adoption of the mask wearing policy, are suffering less than the USA. Americans who do not want to wear a mask can remind themselves that shoes and shirts are required for going into stores for hygiene reasons, and masks are worn for hygiene reasons.