Will Wearing Face Masks Save Lives?

Cloth face coverings in educational settings may present challenges
young girl looking out a window with a mask on

‘Reminding others that “masks save lives” isn’t just sound advice,’ said Dr. Francis S. Collins in his weekly blog.

‘It’s a scientific fact that wearing one in public can help to slow the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.’

Dr. Collins is the current Director of the National Institutes of Health and shares his insights each week, which are excerpted below.

‘I’m very careful to wear a mask outside my home whenever I’m out and about. I do it not necessarily to protect myself but to protect others. If by chance I’ve been exposed to the virus and am currently incubating it, I wouldn’t want to spread it to other people. 

And any of us could be an unknowing superspreader. We owe it to everyone we encounter, especially those who are more vulnerable, to protect them.

But there are still skeptics around. 

So, just how much does a facial covering protect those around you? Quite a bit, according to researchers who created a sophisticated mathematical model to take a more detailed look. Their model shows that even if a community universally adopted a crude cloth covering that’s far less than 100 percent protective against the virus, this measure alone could significantly help to reduce related fatalities.

The researchers noted several months ago that recommendations on wearing a mask varied across the United States and around the world. To help guide policymakers, the researchers simulated outbreaks in a closed, randomly interacting population in which the supply and effectiveness of crude cloth or disposable, medical-grade masks varied.

Under different outbreak scenarios and mask usages, the researcher’s model calculated the total numbers of expected SARS-CoV-2 infections and fatalities from COVID-19 disease. Not surprisingly, they found that the total number of incidents declined as the availability and effectiveness of face masks increased.

The researchers’ model primarily considered the distribution of medical-grade, surgical masks. But because such masks are currently available in limited supply, they must be prioritized for use by healthcare workers and others at high risk. 

These researchers go on to note that the World Health Organization and others now recommend wearing homemade face coverings in public, especially in places where the coronavirus is spreading. 

While it’s true the ability of these face coverings to contain the virus is more limited than medical-grade masks, they can help and will lead to many fewer deaths,’ concluded Dr. Collins’s blog.

Currently, the U.S. CDC says ‘Cloth face coverings are recommended as a simple barrier to help prevent respiratory droplets from traveling into the air and onto other people when the person wearing the cloth face-covering coughs, sneezes, talks, or raises their voice. Cloth face coverings are an example of source control.

Cloth face coverings are meant to protect other people in case the wearer is unknowingly infected.

As of August 27, 2020, the CDC recommends that people wear masks in public settings around people who don’t live in your household, and when you can’t stay 6 feet away from others.

And the CDC says ‘wear masks with 2+ layers to stop the spread of the virus and should NOT be worn by children younger than 2 years of age, and people who have trouble breathing.

The use of cloth face coverings in educational settings may present challenges, particularly for younger students and students with special healthcare or educational needs. 

This CDC document published on August 12, 2020, provides guidance to help school administrators decide how to best implement the wearing of cloth face coverings ― in their school settings and facilities, including but not limited to buses and other shared transportation.

However, the CDC says ‘cloth face coverings are not personal protective equipment, such as surgical masks or respirators, which are intended for use by healthcare professionals.’

CoronavirusToday published research-based pandemic news.