WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - After Governor Roy Cooper said he and his team are talking over a possible mandatory mask order, members of the “Re-Open NC” group responded by burning masks in protest.
But public health officials and infectious disease experts argue masks are crucial to limiting the spread of the novel coronavirus, especially as things start re-opening.
Cloth and surgical masks, which are what the general public are encouraged to use, are not designed to protect the wearer from the virus, but instead keep those who are already infected from spreading it to other people.
“What masks do is they basically are a form of source control, they protect you from me. So as I’m talking, I’m emitting droplets into the air, and many of the droplets will be caught by the mask, and so will not have a chance to get into the air,” said New Hanover Regional Medical Center epidemiologist Dr. Paul Kamitsuka.
While not a silver bullet, Kamitsuka says research shows that masks are effective in reducing the spread of COVID-19 by roughly 85%, but only if everyone in the setting is wearing one.
In response to concern that masks cause issues with oxygen flow or an increased exposure to carbon dioxide, New Hanover County Assistant Health Director Carla Turner said those experiencing issues may not be wearing the correct mask in the first place.
“When I have this [mask] on, I can still breathe freely,” she said, referring to her own fabric mask. “Now if I’m having trouble breathing, I might need to have a different size mask.”
Another misconception, Kamitsuka said, is that masks aren’t as needed if you are outside.
If you are alone, he said, you probably would be safe taking off your mask, but if you are around others, he suggests keeping it on.
“We ought to sort of think about it like cigarette smoke. Imagine if somebody is smoking a cigarette outside. Well, you could smell the smoke way more than six feet away. Okay. And if the breezes are just right, that means that potentially an aerosolized viral particle can make its way to your nose.”