By Lillian Boyd
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending the use of face coverings in light of recent studies revealing individuals with coronavirus who were asymptomatic. Reports have indicated that even those who eventually develop symptoms (pre-symptomatic) 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,” a CDC statement says. “In light of this new evidence, CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.”
The CDC maintains emphasis on keeping a six-foot social distancing in order to slow spread of the virus. 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 agency says.
“The cloth face coverings recommended are not surgical masks or N-95 respirators,” the CDC statement says. “Those are critical supplies that must continue to be reserved for health care workers and other medical first responders, as recommended by current CDC guidance.”
The CDC also refers to “The President’s Coronavirus Guidelines for America,” which instructs people to avoid social gatherings, avoid eating out, avoid nursing homes and to practice good hygiene.
While the CDC refers to various studies pointing to face coverings preventing spread, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) states the support is lacking.
“There is limited evidence to suggest that use of cloth face coverings by the public during a pandemic could help reduce disease transmission,” a CDPH statement says. “Their primary role is to reduce the release of infectious particles into the air when someone speaks, coughs, or sneezes, including someone who has COVID-19 but feels well. Cloth face coverings are not a substitute for physical distancing and washing hands and staying home when ill.”
The CDPH has echoed similar guidelines by emphasizing the importance of frequent hand washing, avoiding touching your face, avoiding sick people and implementing physical distancing by staying at home.
“There may be a benefit to reducing asymptomatic transmission and reinforcing physical distancing from the use of face coverings,” a CDPH statement says.
However, face coverings may increase risk if users reduce their use of strong defenses, such as physical distancing and frequent hand washing, when using face coverings, the CDPH warns.
Dr. Rodney Rohde is a clinical and medical laboratory professional with a specialization in virology. He is also the Associate Dean for Research for the College of Health Professions at Texas State University.
“It’s important to remember that cloth masks will not perform like surgical masks or N95 masks, both of which are validated,” says Rohde. “However, cloth masks will help to reduce the respiratory droplets which contain virus particles from being exhaled and spread in the environment. By catching the respiratory droplets, cloth masks will reduce the viral load that would be deposited on surfaces and in the air near other people.”
Rohde adds that although N95 masks filter out virus particles in the nanometer range, most people should be wearing cloth masks primarily due to the N95 shortage for health care workers.
“Cotton cloth is not designed to fully filter virus particles in the nanometer range,” Rohde said. “However, it may provide some protection, as well as reduce the viral load one may shed in the environment. It could be very helpful for asymptomatic individuals that would normally be wearing nothing.”
Lillian Boyd is the senior editor for Picket Fence Media and city editor for Dana Point Times. She graduated with a degree in journalism from Humboldt State University. Her work experience includes interviewing incarcerated individuals in the Los Angeles County jails, an internship at the Pentagon covering U.S. Army news as well as reporting and anchoring for a local news radio station in Virginia. Follow her on Twitter @Lillianmboyd and follow Dana Point Times at @danapointtimes.