Serving Larchmont Village, Hancock Park, and the Greater Wilshire neighborhoods of Los Angeles since 2011.

Masks for Everyone: Yes, No, Maybe?

Scientists and public health professionals now think homemade masks, using materials you may already have at home, can help slow the spread of COVID-19 if worn when you leave your house. (photo by Mylene Moreno)

New update: On Friday, April 3, 2020 the City of Los Angeles issued this advisory that all Angelenos should wear non-medical cloth face coverings when in public.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the City of Los Angeles has issued new guidance to L.A. residents on the importance of wearing face coverings in public. The California Department of Public Health has also issued public guidance on the use of face coverings.

Early data suggests that many who are infected with COVID-19 are not symptomatic, which is why we recommend all members of the public wear cloth face coverings when leaving the house for essential activities. However, a face covering is not a substitute for other critical measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 — most importantly, staying home as much as possible, washing hands frequently, and practicing safe physical distancing in all settings.

Since we published this story on Tuesday, LA Mayor Eric Garcetti announced at a Wednesday news briefing that “everyone performing essential tasks such as as food shopping should wear homemade, non-medical face coverings, or even bandannas, as people in other countries have done.” 

According to a report in the LA Times, Garcetti said he had been awaiting advice on masks from the CDC, but with the COVID-19 rate surging he decided to wait no longer.

“To be clear, you should still stay at home. This isn’t an excuse to suddenly all go out,” Garcetti said. He added that people shouldn’t use medical-grade masks, which are in short supply and are needed by healthcare workers and first responders.

In the last several days, there has been much debate about the use of masks for the general public because there is no scientific evidence that proves they are effective in reducing the risk of transmission.  Also,  more importantly, some experts fear the use of a mask may result in a false sense of protection and a relaxation of physical distancing guidelines.  (Hand washing and social distancing are considered the two most effective ways to stop the spread of the virus.)  Another concern is the need to preserve the supply of surgical masks for healthcare workers which is why the current thinking is to encourage home-made or non-surgical masks or other facial coverings.

Should everyone be wearing a mask? That’s a question we’ve read a lot about since the outbreak of COVID-19 and the orders to stay at home were issued. Now it seems there’s a consensus developing among scientists and public health professionals that wearing a mask (not a hospital mask that should be used by healthcare professionals, but even just a homemade one), could be a good idea for everyone.

Hancock Park resident Dr. Larry Brooks, a pulmonary and critical care specialist who currently works as the medical director of an intensive care unit at a local hospital,  told us that while there is currently no official recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control or the World Health Organization about masks for the general public, there is data based on the experience in China and Singapore that  healthcare workers have been able to flatten their own curve wearing masks while at work.

“There is still no consensus on whether widespread use of facial coverings would make a significant difference,” Brooks told the Buzz. “Masks could lull people into a false sense of security and make them less disciplined about social distancing.”

Bandannas or even surgical masks do not provide protection from infection with the virus, explained Brooks. However, they could limit the amount of respiratory droplets emitted by the person wearing the mask. Cloth masks would potentially lower the risk that the wearer, if infected, would transmit the virus to other people. Epidemiologists believe that infected people can spread COVID-19 even when they have no symptoms, he added.

“Maintaining the six-foot distance and frequent hand-washing are still the most effective ways to stop infections. Well-designed homemade or commercially manufactured masks for the public that do not decrease access of surgical masks for healthcare workers could potentially provide some protection,” said Brooks. “People walking down the street are at a very low risk of infection. There is nothing you can do to turn your risk to zero, but we have to balance behaviors and resources in a rational way.”

The Washington Post editorialized today everyone should be covering their faces to protect others from potential infection.

“Early in the coronavirus crisis, many public health officials insisted that masks could not protect the public from COVID-19. But that thinking is increasingly in question. People should be encouraged to cover their faces — responsibly, wrote the Washington Post Editorial Board. “There is too little evidence available to draw firm conclusions, but, in its absence, it makes intuitive sense that some barrier — even if it is cloth or paper — between one’s airways and the outside world is better than none. Officials in other nations concluded this long ago, and U.S. public health experts are coming to this position,” concluded the Post.

Earlier this week, the Post also ran a column by Jeremy Howard, a distinguished research scientist at the University of San Francisco, founding researcher at fast.ai and a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global AI Council, who said:

“It’s time to make masks a key part of our fight to contain, then defeat, this pandemic. Masks effective at “flattening the curve” can be made at home with nothing more than a T-shirt and a pair of scissors. We should all wear masks — store-bought or homemade — whenever we’re out in public.”

Howard suggests we will look back on this crisis and realize that advising people not to wear masks was a mistake.

“When historians tally up the many missteps policymakers have made in response to the coronavirus pandemic, the senseless and unscientific push for the general public to avoid wearing masks should be near the top.

The evidence not only fails to support the push, it also contradicts it. It can take a while for official recommendations to catch up with scientific thinking. In this case, such delays might be deadly and economically disastrous.”

Last week we learned about the #Mask4All movement that started in the Czech Republic.  The information came from a friend who spent the day making masks for her family after viewing a compelling video urging the use of masks.

“I had a bit of elastic on hand and am using a sheet and duvet cover for the envelopes,” Mylene Moreno told us last week after she shared a photo of her handiwork with us. She said she ordered the filter she saw in the video, and more elastic for ear bands, so she can make more masks for her family and friends.

If you Google “homemade face mask,” you’ll find hours’ worth of video and links to mask-making and buying options.

If you decide a mask is right for you, there is still a very strong consensus that staying home, if you can,  and practicing social distancing – or, more accurately, physical distancing and washing your hands – are the best way to stop the spread of COVID-19.

 

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Patricia Lombard
Patricia Lombardhttps://larchmontbuzz.com
Patricia Lombard is the co-editor and publisher of the Larchmont Buzz. Patty lives with her family in Fremont Place. She has been active in neighborhood issues since moving here in 1989. Her pictorial history, "Larchmont" for Arcadia Press is available at Chevalier's Books.

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