Masks May Help, But Not Alone

The write up below was inspired by someone’s #Reddit post titled, “Going maskless in public is the new smoking in restaurants” that was a share of a recent article from the Chicago Tribune (https://www.chicagotribune.com/columns/eric-zorn/ct-column-mask-smoking-40-years-zorn-20200508-bxwmlsvmfrboleipb3mfn4ziy4-story.html).

For those that that know me or are Facebook friends, you already know my stance on the notion that masks are a magic solution to preventing the spread of COVID-19. Hint, they are not. As I explain below, masks are a small percentage of the whole of good hygiene and infection control practices. Many, if not all of these practices that are in the spotlight now due to the pandemic have always been there. Handwashing, covering your cough, staying home when sick, and on and on. My response to the Reddit post is below.

“This is very different than smoking. Smoke is lighter and travels through the air much easier than the particles you breath out.I was a Public Health Emergency Coordinator, worked in Public Safety and now in Healthcare. In reading this thread there are many interesting points. Some accurate, some it seems based on fear and group think.Scientifically masks provide a small percentage of help if you’re sick, been exposed to someone with COVID or you are COVID+ (symptomatic or asymptomatic) to not spread the virus. This has been the deal for a long time, e.g. for Flu, H1N1, etc. as doctor’s offices have had signs asking patients with flu like symptoms/cough to put a mask on.Masks now it seems are a unifying symbol for some as a way to feel like they can help in the fight, but the education on the entire process of effective PPE use, effective infection control and overall public health is lacking.

Think through the scenario of grocery shopping:

  • You’re wearing a mask so you don’t cough or sneeze or breath on someone.
    • Are you still distancing while walking around?
      • Yes? Cool. Just as advised.
      • No? When you brush by others your mask doesn’t protect from the stuff that’s on your body. So everyone and everything you touch cross contaminates you and others.
      • Remember, short of someone sneezing directly in your face, it’s exposure + time that is critical
    • Are you still touching stuff, then your phone, then more stuff?
      • No? Good job.
      • Yes? Well, now your phone is contaminated.
  • Do you wear gloves?
    • Do you change them after you touch each item?
      • Yes? Great. This is how you stop cross contamination.
      • No? You might as well take the gloves off because you’re spreading whatever is on every thing you touch all over.
  • Not wearing gloves?
    • Do you sanitize between everything you touch?
      • Yes? Strong work.
      • No? Same as above.
  • How about your feet?
    • Do you sanitize your shoes before you get into your car?
      • Yes? Nice.
      • No? You’re carrying everything, COVID, Flu, dirt, etc. with you into your car and into your home.

Mask, no mask, that’s a personal choice (unless you’re sick). What the message should be now and for the long term is the overall steps to slow the spread of this and other viruses include:

  • Wash hands often
  • Cough or sneeze into your sleeve
  • Stay out of people’s personal spaces or the recommended 6′ apart
  • Wear a mask if you are sick (COVID, Flu, etc.) or if you know you have been exposed to someone that is sick (still stay 6′ from people)
  • Stay home from work, the gym or anywhere else you’re near other people and can make them sick
  • Live a healthier life, e.g. exercise, hydration and better diet help boost immunity and reduce recovery time from COVID and all other sicknesses

COVID-19 is scary. Pandemics are scary. But the fear generated from these things should not be the core of what drives our decisions. Frankly, if you dive deeper into public health you’ll learn more about how easy it is to spread or catch diseases all the time. You might freak out even more. I did at first.

My $.02 as someone that’s survived Viral Meningitis, Cancer, Apendicitis and helped fight small disease outbreaks and pandemics, is for folks to work through this as informed teammates and not be ruled by misinformation, fear and negative group think.

Godspeed, Kevin

UPDATED Contact Information below:
Kevin Pannell, PMP | Creator & Host, ‘People, Process, Progress’ | Connect and subscribe at https://linktr.ee/peopleprocessprogress  #peopleprocessprogress #peopleprocessprogresspodcast #people #process #progress

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