By Dr. Clyde Henderson
Partner update: Cincinnati Medical Association
UPDATE: More and more Americans continue to be identified as infected by the coronavirus COVID-19. The availability of testing, which would help the experts effectively manage this pandemic, continues to be inadequate, despite what we hear from some federal authorities. As we have stated in this space over the last month or so, the developments around this disease are changing nearly minute to minute. At the time of this writing, there have been 250,000 Americans diagnosed with COVID-19 and over 6,000 deaths.
WEAR A MASK: For many months we have been told by U.S. and world public health authorities that the general public only needed to wear face masks under limited circumstances. This was based on the understanding that the virus was transmitted either by droplets that do not remain airborne very long after originating from coughing or sneezing, or by direct contact with the virus which may have been left on a surface from someone who was infected.
It has been known for a while that a significant number of people who are infected with COVID-19 exhibit no symptoms. These asymptomatic or “pre-symptomatic” individuals can still spread the virus. The emerging data from the CDC and an experience in Washington State reveal that 25% and 60%, respectively, of these asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic people test positive for the COVID-19 virus.
On this past Wednesday a Harvard University scientific panel reported to the White House that research shows coronavirus can possibly also be spread by talking and by just breathing. This research means that the virus lasts in the air a while longer than when transported in droplets.
The question becomes how long does the virus remain in the air? That apparently depends on the amount of virus put out during talking or breathing and the air circulation in the environment. The less the circulation, the longer the virus can linger in the air. So outdoors on a windy day the affect of this aerosolization is not as great.
Although there remains no scientific study that definitely proves the wearing of a mask reduces the incidence of contagion, intuition and the reality of being able to change a soiled mask is better than having to carry around a sleeve that has been sneezed into! It is also clear that if an unknowingly infected person is wearing a mask their sneezing, coughing, talking or breathing will leave a lot less virus in the air or on surfaces. Without question, all people wearing masks are protecting us from them!
Medical masks are in short supply, and you are probably not going to be able to buy any. Since these critical supplies need to be left for our brave healthcare workers and first responders, we should plan on using alternatives such as a bandana, scarf, homemade mask, or creative alternatives that cover the mouth and nose.
What does this all mean in our fight against COVID-19? Most importantly Stay Home! If you must go out to the grocery store or to perform your essential duties, wear a mask or substitute, wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water after you touch surfaces (or use alcohol- based hand sanitizer), avoid shaking hands. Keep your hands away from your face. If you are not wearing a mask or substitute, sneeze or cough into your sleeve or a tissue (discard), then sanitize your hands. In addition, maintain six feet separation between you and any another individual.
Remember the mask does not substitute for staying at home or proper social distancing!