As restrictions are relaxed and people returning to places of business, entertainment and worship amid the new coronavirus, health officials are reminding citizens about proper use of face masks.
Paulette Schnell, Regional West Community Health director, said an important step that isn’t always followed properly is the proper placement and removal of the mask itself.
“You don’t want to put your hands all over, especially the inside of your mask because that’s where you’ve been breathing,” Schnell said. “You want to handle whatever you’re using, whether it’s ties or loops, you want to keep your hands on that part of it on the outside. Basically, stay away from the inside of your mask.”
Masks should never be shared among individuals, and cloth masks should be washed on a regular basis — daily if the mask is worn throughout the day and as you see fit based on saturation if the mask is worn only on occasion. Surgical masks that are only worn for trips into a store or other outings may be reused, but should be disposed daily if they’re worn all day.
Schnell said the general public can typically wear cloth masks, but for those who may be higher risk, she recommends a surgical mask for added protection. Children 2 and younger and people who have trouble breathing should not wear a mask.
The N95 respirator mask should be reserved for those who are on the front line working with people who have COVID-19. They are in short supply, so Schnell advises the general public not to search them out, leaving them available for first responders and hospital workers.
Combined with maintaining six feet of social distancing and being aware of conditions such as shortness of breath, cough and many other symptoms, use of a mask is a step toward keeping yourself and others around you healthy. People may be hesitant to wear a mask because it makes them feel uncomfortable or believe it’s not necessary, but it is, Schnell said.
“What we’re talking about is stopping that droplet that is from a sneeze, talk, cough. even singing, any of those kinds of things,” she said. “If you have your mouth open and you’re doing something, you can spread those small droplets out.
“Those little droplets — and you don’t see them — but when you’re talking or breathing and have your mouth open, they’re going out. What that mask does is it just holds that in. It’s not so much about protecting yourself, but what you’re doing is you’re protecting each other. The more that you do that for one another, it’s going to stop what we call community spread.”
What the mask does is keep those droplets there instead of potentially traveling six feet out. Because of that, Schnell said it is important to wear a mask when you are unable to be six feet apart from others or in a crowded area, inside especially, where you can’t control that distance. She said any kind of shopping area is important, but people should also be cautious when going to graduations, celebrations, events or sports events.
“If they’re outside, and they’re spaced, that’s one thing,” Schnell said. “But if you’re in a stadium, and you’re close together, and you can’t control that, you need to be thinking about wearing them. Just because you’re outside doesn’t mean it stops that spread.”
Schnell said there has been an increase in community spread cases of COVID-19.
“We’re seeing more community spread where the person doesn’t know where they got it,” Schnell said. “They don’t know that they were around a certain person because we’re seeing more and more people out and about because they don’t know they’re sick because 48 hours before they get sick, they are contagious. Some people might have very mild symptoms, especially a lot of younger people don’t get very sick, and we’re seeing a lot of 20s to 40s who don’t think of a scratchy throat as being COVID.”
As people become more and more anxious to return to normal life, Schnell said it’s important to be cautious.
“We all want to get back to normal,” she said. “This is one simple thing we can do to take care of one another so that we can get back out and about and get back to normal. Wearing that mask doesn’t seem like normal, but it is one of the things we can do to help us get back to normal and prevent that community spread from happening as much.”
On Thursday, Gov. Pete Ricketts warned on Thursday that the state could see a spike in new cases if residents don’t continue to take safety precautions like wearing masks in public places and keeping a distance of at least 6 feet from other people.