How cloth face masks reduce COVID spread

Posted at 6:31 PM, Jul 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-18 12:50:16-04

HELENA — On Wednesday, the State of Montana mandated the wearing of face masks in counties with four or more COVID-19 cases to help reduce the spread of the virus.

That decision has been both praised and condemned by the public.

“Nothing is foolproof, but what we’re doing is putting another prevention measure in to decrease the spread of this disease,” said State Medical Officer Dr. Greg Holzman.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS), and every major hospital in Montana has called upon people to wear masks to reduce the spread of COVID-19, even before the Governor’s mandate.

Bipartisan support for wearing a cloth face mask in public has increased in recent weeks, with President Trump seen in public wearing a mask and the First Lady calling upon Americans to wear masks.

According to the CDC, COVID-19 is most commonly transferred through respiratory droplets. These droplets are produced every time someone exhales, sneezes or coughs.

“Masks work as a barrier every time we cough, sneeze, or even speak. The mask helps keep droplets from going as far,” explained Dr. Holzman. “Even with the flu you can spread the disease 24 hours before showing symptoms. With this one we know not only can it happen, but you can have a high viral load before you even have symptoms.”

Some opponents of cloth face masks have claimed the virus can easily pass through the material

Viruses are incredibly small, but Dr. Holzman says they have trouble surviving outside a host.

Masks help collect respiratory droplets, and greatly reduce potential spread by a COVID infected individual.

“The virus wants another warm body to be in, that’s the only way it’s going to live,” explained Dr. Holzman. “It can’t live for a long time outside of the body. If you can break that transmission, from one body to the other, you can stop the transmission of this disease.”

Dr. Holzman says if everyone works together by wearing masks in public settings, washing hands and social distancing, we can make a difference.

“I know there’s a lot of political debate and a lot of things that I’m probably not going to convince a person one way or the other. But we have known ways that we can do something about it right now and can decrease the amount of suffering that’s happening in our country. For the people who are getting this virus, to the deaths to the suffering that’s happening to the economy. If we do this as a community we can make a difference. If we don’t, this will continue to go on.”

Some face mask opponents have also claimed they restrict breathing and can have heath consequences.

While the prolonged use of medical masks can be uncomfortable, health experts say there is no truth to them causing CO2 intoxication or oxygen deficiency. Construction workers and wildland firefighters often work very physically demanding jobs while wearing a face mask.

There are some people, such as those with severe asthma, that can’t wear a face covering.

Health experts say that’s all the more reason for others to wear a mask, to help protect those most at risk.