When I walk into a public place where I will encounter people at close distance, particularly if it inside a building, I wear a mask.
Let’s talk about the common sense of mask wearing.
- First of all, we can still get Covid while wearing a mask, because a mask is only partially protective. Since the virus is spread by droplets coming out of the nose while sneezing or out of the open mouth while talking or eating, a mask will catch some of the droplets. But only an N95 mask is designed to catch all the droplets, because of its construction.
- The point is to avoid getting droplets in your eyes and your mouth. This is where the virus can enter your body. So far the evidence indicates that the coronavirus is not spread via airborne particles, meaning it is not just floating around in the air. However, if someone sneezed into their hand and then touched a surface, another person can come by and touch the same surface and then touch their mouth or eyes and contract the virus.
- Washing or sanitizing our hands before we touch our eyes or mouth can help prevent contracting the coronavirus. It is important to wash our hands after being in places where others have touched or transmitted droplets onto surfaces. This can happen even when they are not coughing or sneezing because our mouths can spray tiny droplets when we talk. Washing our hands is a way to rid our hands of the contaminants we might have touched.
Now let’s translate this information.
a) If you are alone in your car or your home, you do not need to wear a mask because there is nobody who will dispel droplets in your direction.
b) If you are going for a walk outside and are keeping a six foot distance you do not need a mask.
c) If you are going for a walk and you pass someone coming toward you, but they have their mouth closed you are virtually safe from any transmission. In other words, the risk of transmission from one person’s mouth to another’s face is really only there once we open our mouths to talk, cough or sneeze. It is estimated that droplets don’t travel further than six feet at the most. This is why health officials have given us the recommendation to stay six feet apart.
d) We can still get the virus from touching surfaces that contain the virus if we touch our mouth or eyes after touching these surfaces. Once again, this is the reason for hand washing when we have been in places that others may have touched. Sanitizing our hands as we walk into a store protects others from the virus if we are carrying it. Sanitizing our hands as we leave a store protects us if someone in the store touched anything we touched. I have sanitizer with me and sanitize my hands after leaving a store, when I get in the car. The thing to remember is to only touch your face with clean hands.
So, common sense tells me that if I walk around the corner in a grocery store isle and someone is talking on their cell phone, facing my face, their droplets could reach me. This is why I choose to wear a mask in a store. It prevents some of their droplets from getting to my mouth. If the other person is also wearing a mask, there are two layers of protection. But remember, the virus can still get through each of the layers. It is just a greater protection than no mask at all.
If I have glasses, then my eyes are more protected than without glasses, but consider, for a moment, the trajectory of droplets. They will travel in a downward line, not upward. Essentially they would likely only hit your eyes if the person’s mouth is eye level with your eyes. However, a plastic shield will be more protective than a mask.
In summary, a mask provides some protection if we encounter someone with the coronavirus. If we are with people who don’t have the virus, there is no need for a mask, because there is no virus to transmit. The trouble is we don’t know who has the virus. People can have the coronavirus without having any symptoms.
However, anyone who knows they have the virus should definitely isolate, so as not to spread it to others.
There is a very good chance that we will not encounter someone with the virus when we go out without a mask, but we cannot be sure. It makes many people feel more comfortable if they see others taking at least a minimal precaution like wearing a mask.
Are we over-reacting? Maybe. Are we creating a false sense of security with mask wearing? To some degree we are. But masks offer a level of protection. For this reason, and to make others more comfortable, I think it is a good idea to wear a mask where distancing is a problem.
One more important precaution to consider is that if you do encounter someone with the coronavirus and the virus gets onto your mask, then you want to be very careful while removing your mask. When you remove your mask, remember to wash your hands as if they are contaminated. When you remove your mask, you have to act as though it has the coronavirus on it. Chances are that if your mask is contaminated you will get the virus even if you are careful removing it, but once again, if you are careful to wash your mask, or discard it, after using it, and to wash your hands after touching and removing it, then you reduce your risk of exposure to the virus.
If I walk around inside a store without a mask, I might make other people uncomfortable. If nobody in the store has the virus, including myself, then I am not at risk and I am not putting anyone else at risk. But we cannot be sure of this.
I don’t like to see mask wearing become a divisive issue. My guess, and this is only a guess, is that we still stand a 50% chance of getting the virus if we wear a mask and encounter the virus.
Use common sense and consideration. Personally, I think that it is reasonable to expect mask wearing inside grocery stores and places where there are a lot of people and it is difficult to distance. The risk of the virus being present multiplies with the number of people.