In a huge about-face, the CDC is recommending that Americans wear masks when out in public. They want to preserve N95 respirator masks for health care workers who have the greatest exposure to COVID-19, but believe that the general public wearing lesser masks can help stop the spread.
- N95 masks provide enough of a filter to keep the virus out, and protect the wearer
- Standard masks will do something to prevent the virus from spreading beyond the wearer
The recommendation isn’t to wear masks for your own benefit, but for the benefit of those around you. The underlying reason for the shift in recommendation is that early in the pandemic the CDC was saying that aymptomatic or pre-sympomatic people would not spread the virus. That’s no longer believed to be true.
While masks aren’t the only driver of this by any means, it’s still a striking chart:
This graph has been making the rounds today on the effect of masks at reducing #SARSCoV2 #HCoV19 #COVID19 #coronavirus transmission. There's a lot more going on here than mask/no mask pic.twitter.com/vdSMAsmhoX
— Dr. Angela Rasmussen (@angie_rasmussen) March 28, 2020
Someone without any symptoms, or with mild symptoms, may shed the virus and infect those around them. You may have COVID-19 and not even know it (and may not ever know it until there’s serotesting, the first antibody test has been approved but it’s not that useful yet). And even the weakest mask will do something to prevent the spread if you cough or spit, the theory goes.
Since you can’t get your hands on the good masks, and will be socially shamed if you do, you’re expected to protect others with whatever you can find. Etsy is full of home made masks (some with slots to fill with home air filters or paper towels).
But if you’re a frequent traveler you probably have face masks. In fact you may have a bunch of them in a closet without even realizing it. Ever take an international flight in a premium cabin, and bring home the amenity kit?
— Linda (@flylabrock) April 4, 2020
Qantas business class pic.twitter.com/qa5LWLuICI
— Brandon rabbitt (@Brabbworld) April 4, 2020
— Sam Sweeney (@SweeneyABC) April 4, 2020
Go to your closet, pull out that amenity kit, and turn the eye mask into a face mask. It’s your ticket to social acceptance the night time you have to go to the grocery store.
To be sure it’s an imperfect solution at best. You want good masks that you can wear correctly. (HT: David S.) But it’ll get you by in public until you can make or buy something that offers better protection – which, until the CDC changes their mind again, should be right away.
Update: it occurs to me you should also go through your amenity kits to find hand sanitizer as many include that hard to find item as well.