While seeing people in medical masks might be a surprise, it could also help prevent the spread of the novel COVID-19 coronavirus to those most susceptible, so their use should definitely be considered.
America has different cultural norms from other countries about wearing masks in public, particularly those in East Asia. Yet, in times of increased concern about the spread of viruses and other bacteria, it is especially important to protect not only yourself but others from the potential spread of any contaminants.
The use of a mask is also particularly practical for those more susceptible to viral infections, like the young and older. These age groups tend to have weaker immune response systems which make them prone to more severe infections from pathogens. But people of any age should consider wearing a mask while outside for several practical reasons.
A recent TIME article on the cultural differences in regards to mask-wearing between the US and Asia quoted 20-year-old student Cheryl Man, who felt ostracized for wearing a mask on the New York City subway, despite it being normal practice in the city where she was born and raised: Hong Kong.
“I felt very humiliated and misunderstood,” said Man to TIME. She also questioned why her co-workers questioned her wearing a mask, “Why do they think it’s about me? It’s a civic duty… If I have a mask on, and if—touch wood—I’m infected, I could cut the chain off where I am. That could save a lot of people.”
Health professionals in Hong Kong – and across the world – agree with Man. In fact, the Hong Kong government and leading experts in the medical field have recommended mask-wearing as a way to prevent the transmission of the COVID-19 coronavirus, declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) in early March 2020.
Infectious disease specialist Joseph Tsang clarifies two main advantages: “Wearing a mask is not just for protecting yourself from getting infected, but also minimizing the chance of potential infection harboring in your body from spreading to people around you.”
Tsang also clarified that the three-layer surgical mask can help to minimize the transmission of droplets – a noted agent of transfer for the virus. “Whenever you foresee to have someone within two to three meters (6.5 to 10 feet) apart, then it’s better to wear a mask,” notes Tsang.
It is important to prevent the transfer of any contaminants from surfaces by your hands, especially to the face and mouth. Paired with a strict hand-washing routine, basic mask use can help eliminate the potential of these surface-to-surface transfers.
Beyond the current concerns about the spread of the novel COVID-19 Coronavirus, particularly to those most vulnerable to viral infection, it is worth investing in these masks even just for the annual cold and flu season.
– Hillary Leung, TIME, “Why Wearing a Face Mask Is Encouraged in Asia, but Shunned in the U.S.,” March 12, 2020 – https://time.com/5799964/coronavirus-face-mask-asia-us/
– 3M Personal Safety Division, 3M, “Comparison of FFP2, KN95, and N95 and Other Filtering Facepiece Respirator Classes,” January 2020 – https://multimedia.3m.com/mws/media/1791500O/comparison-ffp2-kn95-n95-filtering-facepiece-respirator-classes-tb.pdf
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