BY: ELAINE LEE (CC'23)
Almost a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, the situation in the United States is turning grim. Dropping temperatures are pushing gatherings indoors where lower ventilation increases infection risks. With the upcoming holidays, millions of people are traveling home despite the warnings of CDC guidelines. Together, these events could spell trouble for the country. Coronavirus infections are already rising in every part of the country. To make matters worse, misinformation about COVID-19 thrives on the internet, further hampering the U.S’s pandemic response.
In response to conflicting information about wearing masks and social distancing, we, a team of Columbia professors, postdocs, postgrads, and undergrads, started Wearing is Caring in March 2020. Since July, we’ve been publishing science-based mask guidelines. In a time like this, it is more important than ever for members of the general public to stay safe. Here are some of our most important findings:
Why should I wear a mask?
Throughout the pandemic, different studies have reported different numbers on the rate of asymptomatic infection. However, whatever the true asymptomatic rate may be, all of the studies can agree on one thing: anyone can get infected with the coronavirus, infect friends and family, and show no symptoms. As a result, even those who don’t feel sick need to take precautions like wearing masks and social distancing.
How do I wear a mask?
To wear a mask properly and maximize its level of protection, there are many aspects to consider, from material to design.
One of the aspects we want to emphasize is mask fit. While wearing a mask is important to stop the spread of the coronavirus, wearing a mask that fits is also crucial. While it is true that an N95 mask has a higher filtration ability than a cloth mask, badly fitting N95s provide far less protection than a surgical mask or cloth mask with a good fit. Ultimately, fit makes all the difference between a piece of cloth and a properly working mask.
For more information on how to properly wear a mask, visit our website.
What about face shields?
Face shields have emerged as a potential alternative to masks. However, even though they add eye protection not provided by masks, they’re not a perfect replacement. Like the plexiglass glass barrier at Chipotle, face shields are good sneeze guards. They catch the large droplets that you’re exposed to when someone coughs in your face. However, they don’t block smaller aerosols from moving in through the gaps. To maximize protection, face shields can be worn with masks. They cannot, however, be worn instead of masks.
For many Americans, the holidays will be marked by empty chairs and spotty Zoom calls instead of turkey dinners with loved ones. We are devastated that people are being forced to forgo the comfort of friends and family, especially during trying times like these. However, until a vaccine is available next year, we have to continue taking these precautions.
From the bottom of our hearts, we thank you for all the sacrifices you have made––and will continue to make-––to protect your community, and wish you a safe and happy thanksgiving.
To learn more about WearingisCaring, visit their website at WearingPPEisCaring.org!
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