There seems to be a lot of confusion and misinformation about wearing a mask, so as a physician I feel compelled to offer some advice based on science. Somewhere over the past few months we have gone from “healthcare heroes” to the evil people trying to take away your rights. Here’s the thing: we didn’t go into medicine to become heroes. We did it to help keep people from getting sick and help them get better if they do become sick. The goal is always to prevent illness and that is why we advocate for masks.
First, masks do not make you sick. For many years, my fellow doctors, nurses, scrub techs, and I have worn masks all day in the OR. No one collapses from breathing in carbon dioxide. Sure it gets hot, especially when you are also wearing a cap, gown, gloves, booties under the hot OR lights. But would you want your surgeon to forgo wearing a mask for your surgery because she feels uncomfortable in it? I guarantee that a ventilator is a whole lot more uncomfortable than a mask.
Second, masks DO help prevent the transmission of COVID-19. The only reason the CDC did not recommend it in the beginning was because there were not enough masks for the healthcare workers taking care of known COVID positive patients (a whole other issue) and they did not want there to be a shortage similar to the toilet paper fiasco. Staying home is the best way to prevent contracting this virus but if you need to go out, study after study has shown masks to be effective in stopping the spread of illness. I will post them below, but here’s a summary. Wearing a cloth or surgical mask does not keep all of the viral particles out if someone coughs or sneezes within 6 feet of you. BUT, if the person who coughs or sneezes on you is also wearing a mask, it keeps those respiratory droplets in their mask and not on you. So, it requires both parties to be wearing a mask to prevent the virus getting to you, about 95% of the time.
Third, wearing/not wearing a mask is NOT a political statement. It is not about politics, it is about humanity. Wearing a mask means you care about someone else’s health more than your own. Judging by what I’ve seen over the past few months there is a lot of selfishness going on. Instead of a political statement, let’s use this as a fashion statement. There are tons of cute masks from clothing stores and on Etsy. We just got some cute Avenger ones from Disney. We are in this for the long haul – possibly even another year – so why not make the best of it.
I understand that there are people that have a hard time wearing a mask due to anxiety, or for kids with autism. In that situation, a face shield might be a good alternative to consider. There are lots of places making them with 3D printers and they are shown to work well to prevent respiratory droplets from spreading out.
Guys, it is getting bad here in AZ as well as other states like TX, FL, and CA. Hospitals and ICUs are filled. Adults are being transferred to children’s hospitals because there are not enough beds or ventilators. Doctors (Dan included) and nurses are working more hours and seeing more patients than they would in normal times and they are getting exhausted and getting sick. We all saw how this played out in NY, NJ, MI, etc. why did we not learn from them??
All of this sucks. The virus sucks, the change in our daily lives sucks. Our kids have missed out on birthday parties, graduations, bar mitzvahs. We have cancelled weddings and vacations. But none of this matters if you don’t have your health. So, continue to stay home when you can, avoid large gatherings, and if you have to go out try to keep your distance and wear a mask. If we all can show some love and concern for each other, we can get through this together.
Jacqueline Belen, DO is a practicing gynecologist in Glendale, AZ. She also enjoys spending time with her husband, 2 teenagers, and 2 dogs. She can be followed on Instagram @jbelen44