Hello to all. To mask, or not to mask? That seems to be the question of the day, especially since Colorado has reported its first cases of the new coronavirus.

By the way, did you note above that I said “new” coronavirus? There are other coronaviruses out there, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Common human coronaviruses usually cause mild to moderate upper-respiratory tract illnesses, like the common cold. Most people get infected with one or more of these viruses at some point in their lives."

This information applies to common human coronaviruses and should not be confused with coronavirus disease 2019 (formerly referred to as 2019 Novel Coronavirus).” Interesting fact.

In this article, I would like to give you some information that will help you make an informed decision on whether to use a mask or not.

In the world of public health practice, we let data and statistics drive much of our decision-making. In fact, this is the first step in the four-step Public Health Process/Model. Doing things like this enables us to direct our attention to more critical issues while being efficient and effective with very limited funding.

Where does the Otero County Health Department (OCHD) go to get its data to direct its activities? Trusted sources such as the CDC and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE). As I daily and closely monitor information on the new coronavirus (COVID -19) situation, I hear a very clear, consistent, loud message from national and state medical and public health professionals (sources I trust): General public, there is no need to mask in response to COVID-19. As a public health practitioner, I agree with this.

On first thought, you may disagree with that statement, and I most certainly understand why. This recommendation may seem odd, because one would think that a mask would eliminate the risk from COVID-19. This is simply not true. Even under the best of conditions, with a properly fit-tested and appropriate mask, risk is not eliminated. It is reduced, and that level of risk reduction depends on some very important factors. What are those factors?

There are lots of different types of respiratory masks out there, and a mask must be chosen that is appropriate for its intended use.

The mask must be fit-tested to the individual. The fit-testing must be performed by a qualified person (someone who has received and passed this training) with appropriate fit testing equipment.

In fit-testing classes, proper ways to put on and take off the mask are taught.

Many masks are intended for one-time use, which means that when they are taken off, they are to be discarded and not reused.

Using masks can give members of the general public a false sense of security, which can put them at increased risk of infection.

In addition to the above, there is another really important reason why the general public is discouraged from using mask respirators in response to COVID-19, and that is because we are now facing a worldwide (yes, worldwide) shortage of masks, and we need to conserve the masks for the people who need them the most. Those who need masks are our front-line healthcare professionals who see patients directly, the people who take care of us when we are sick. We need to protect them from getting sick so they can be there when we need them. Just as you are getting encouragement (right now with this article) to be careful in your decision about using masks, the medical providers also are getting the same message from the CDC. They are being encouraged to “optimize” their supplies of masks. I know this because I am the one sending them these messages.

Now for a very important exception to this guidance. If, according to your doctor, you are in a high-risk category, and your doctor tells you to use masks, then do that. Follow your doctor’s advice. Their clinical judgement and advice is key to your well-being. Be sure to have them demonstrate to you how to use the mask properly, though.

So, just what is the most current CDC guidance regarding using masks?

On 3/8/2020, the CDC’s webpage had this statement: “CDC does not recommend that people who are well wear a face mask to protect themselves from respiratory illnesses, including COVID-19. You should only wear a mask if a healthcare professional recommends it. A face mask should be used by people who have COVID-19 and are showing symptoms. This is to protect others from the risk of getting infected. The use of face masks also is crucial for health workers and other people who are taking care of someone infected with COVID-19 in close settings (at home or in a health care facility).” Here is the website where you can find this statement:

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/faq.html#protect

If these recommendations change, you can be sure that I will let you know. But until they do, let’s do our part to conserve masks. Let’s ensure that our medical providers have what they need so that they can be there to help us in our times of need.

And I am not being a hypocrite in asking you to not wear a mask because I and my family are not wearing mask respirators either. We are right there with you.

As always, if you have questions, please give me a call at 719-383-3045, and if I am not available, leave me a message and I will return your call when I am able.

Stay tuned for more updates, and remember to:

1. Stay home if you are sick and, if needed, see your medical provider.

2. Cover your cough and/or sneeze.

3. Keep your fingers and hands away from your face.

4. Stay informed by trusted and reliable sources.

5. Wash your hands a lot.

6. Be prepared, not scared.