Cobb County residents are now being encouraged to wear cloth face masks in public places where social distancing is tricky, as the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the county and statewide continues to increase daily.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its recommendations Friday in regards to wearing face masks to prevent the virus’ spread, citing recent studies showing people with no symptoms can carry and share it.
Previously the CDC and World Health Organization advice about masks was that only those who were sick should wear them, to prevent infecting others.
But on April 3 the CDC said a significant portion of people with the new coronavirus lack symptoms and even those who eventually develop symptoms can transmit the virus to others before showing symptoms.
“This means that the virus can spread between people interacting in close proximity — for example, speaking, coughing, or sneezing — even if those people are not exhibiting symptoms," the CDC said. "In light of this new evidence, CDC recommends wearing 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.”
The CDC also states on its website that maintaining at least a six-foot distance between people remains important to slow the spread of the virus, and cloth face masks should only complement this.
While cloth face masks don’t stop all risk of becoming infected or passing on the virus, they are better than no face covering, the experts say.
“Cloth face coverings fashioned from household items or made at home from common materials at low cost can be used as an additional, voluntary public health measure,” the CDC states on its website, alongside examples of how such masks can be homemade, both with and without a sewing machine.
Cloth face coverings should not be placed on young children under the age of two, per the CDC, as well as anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance.
Cobb and Douglas Public Health
Cobb and Douglas Public Health agrees with the CDC and also recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public where social distancing may be difficult to maintain, Communications Director Valerie Crow told the MDJ.
“The use of simple cloth face coverings may help people who may have the virus and do not know it, from transmitting it to others,” Crow said. “These cloth face coverings (made from household items like T-shirts, bandanas) can be used as an additional public health measure. However, we still want to emphasize that sheltering in place, maintaining social distancing and frequent hand washing are our most important tools to slowing the spread of COVID-19.”
Crow said it was important for residents to avoid using surgical masks or N-95 respirators, as that equipment “must continue to be reserved for healthcare workers and first responders, as recommended by current CDC guidance.”
Kaiser Permanente, which has several clinics and hospitals in Cobb and throughout metro Atlanta, provided the MDJ Monday with expert comment on cloth masks, including from Dr. Scott Cutro, chief of infectious disease.
Cutro said the masks help reduce the chance the wearer will transmit COVID-19 or other viruses to others, by capturing the wearer’s respiratory droplets.
“This is important because we know there is some level of COVID-19 transmission even when people do not have any symptoms,” he said, adding "don’t just think because you are wearing a mask that you can then abandon social distancing. It is critical to continue practicing social distancing to reduce the spread of COVID-19.”
Dr. Jeffrey Metts, chief of medicine at Cancer Treatment Centers of America Atlanta, and incident commander for the organization’s COVID-19 task force, said he too supports the CDC’s new recommendations regarding cloth face masks.
“However, it’s important to note that cloth face coverings are not surgical masks or N-95 respirators, which should continue to be reserved for healthcare workers and other medical first responders,” Metts said Monday. “In addition, a cloth face cover does not replace the necessity of social distancing as well as frequent handwashing. We care for cancer patients, a higher risk population, and are appropriately masking every patient, caregiver and provider entering our hospital.”
Wellstar Health System
Wellstar Health System, the largest in Georgia, said it also supports the CDC’s new recommendations in respect of cloth face masks, but wants residents to prioritize social distancing or self-isolation, “so as not to overburden our healthcare facilities and workers, as well as to appropriately conserve the use of personal protective equipment (PPE).”
“Social distancing and self-care are extremely important tools to help stop community spread of COVID-19,” Wellstar told the MDJ Monday. “Social distancing slows the spread of the disease to manageable levels and helps to mitigate the daily number of disease cases.”
Per the CDC, cloth face coverings should:
- Fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face.
- Be secured with ties or ear loops.
- Include multiple layers of fabric.
- Allow for breathing without restriction.
- Be able to be laundered and machine dried without damage or change to shape.
Health experts advise cloth face mask wearers to:
- Maintain at least six feet from others, practice good hand hygiene and monitor themselves for COVID-19 symptoms.
- Avoid touching their face, eyes and mouth (wearing a mask can remind people not to touch).
- Wash hands before touching, repositioning or removing the mask.
- Wash cloth masks in a washing machine under normal conditions (bleach or other additional cleaners are not necessary).
- Leave the medical grade face masks for the healthcare workers.