Q-and-A on Wearing a Mask: It’s About ‘Exerting Your Power Over This Illness’

COVID-19 cases are surging, and so, too, are myths and misinformation about one of the most effective steps people can take to protect themselves from the virus: Wearing a mask.

“Wearing a mask is not giving up your rights. Wearing a mask is exerting your power over this illness.” — Yvonne Johnson, M.D., chief medical officer at South Miami Hospital.

In the face of confusion caused by baseless claims andconspiracy theories circulated on social media, medical professionals continueto reinforce the message that wearing face coverings is not only safe, it isalso proven to slow the spread of the virus, saving thousands upon thousands oflives.

“Wearing a mask is not giving up your rights. Wearing a mask is exerting your power over this illness,” says Yvonne Johnson, M.D., chief medical officer at South Miami Hospital. “We know in the hospitals that it works because we’re all masked in the hospital. And we’re working with patients who we absolutely know have the virus, and we’re not transmitting it to each other as we work. And in general, we’re not getting the disease from our patients. So, we know that this works. And this is a way that we can protect each other. We can help protect our community. We can still be able to go and shop, and protect those business owners so that everything doesn’t have to close back down while we’re seeing this resurgence in the viral transmission.”

Dr. Johnson’s comments are included in the latest episode of the Baptist HealthTalk podcast, hosted by Jonathan Fialkow, M.D., deputy medical director, chief of cardiology and a certified lipid specialist at Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute.

The episode debunks mask myths as it addresses some of the most frequently asked questions about face coverings. For a taste of the conversation, check out the Q&A below. 

You can access this andother Baptist HealthTalk podcast episodes on your computer orsmartphone, or via Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts.

Dr. Fialkow: “We’ve seen some people push back about (masks) saying ‘wearing a mask may make it hard for me to breathe’ or ‘it can cause pneumonia.’ Can you give a little bit of insight and education regarding the dangers, if any, of wearing masks?”

Dr. Johnson: “We have years and decades of experience and data withwearing masks in the hospital environment, and that’s not been our experiencethat people were either unable to breathe, or they were at risk of developingpneumonia.”

Dr. Fialkow: “The masks are to prevent particulate matter or dropletsfrom going from you to someone else, or from someone else to you. They don’tprevent oxygen inhalation or carbon dioxide exhalation. So, they really don’taffect your respiration at all.”

Dr. Johnson: “When you come into the hospital to have a procedure like asurgery, sometimes those surgeries are three, four, five, eight hours long. Andthe surgeon is standing there in a mask. And I don’t think any one of us whoare having surgery would want that surgeon to take the mask off and expose apatient to their respiratory secretions.”

Dr. Fialkow: “This disease is unique because people can have it but feelwell and give it to people when they never even know that had it. Let’s talk alittle about the concept of people, especially young people, who can transmitit.”

Dr. Johnson: “We know that a number of people in the community haveasymptomatic disease or are pre-symptomatic. And by that we mean that you havethe disease before you notice that you have symptoms. And you could have beenspreading that disease to others before you knew that you should be protectingthem.

But if I have it and I don’t know it, and I’m wearing amask, and the person I’m talking to is also wearing a mask, I don’t expose them.Then the disease stops there with me. So, I may be sick, but if I don’ttransmit it, then that thread is broken right there. And that’s what we’retrying to do is to break all of these threads.”

Dr. Fialkow: “Is there a difference in masks? Can somebody use a clothmask they make themselves or surgical masks or paper masks? Is there anybenefit or risk of one over the other?”

Dr. Johnson: “Well, I think we definitely have more data on thesurgical masks that are multiple layers in terms of being able to prevent thespread. But I have seen demonstrations of even just a simple cloth mask, wherethey’ve asked somebody to talk in front of a petri dish with a mask and withouta mask. And there’s definitely a difference in what grows on the petri dishwith the mask and without. But it was very dramatic when they did a cloth mask,and no mask when you have someone cough. And even more dramatic with somebodysneezing, as you can imagine. So, while we don’t have tremendous amounts ofdata about the cloth mask and how much it transmits, even if it reduces it only50 percent, that’s going to be a tremendous difference in how many people wehave to take care of in a hospital setting.”

Dr. Fialkow: “Let’s talk about the social distancing component. Forexample, if someone’s going out to take a walk, which we want people to doduring the pandemic — we want people to get out of that house, exercise, seethe sun — should they wear a mask?”

Dr. Johnson: “One of the things that we do know is that transmissionis much less outside. So, if you’re talking and you’re either walking with thepeople you live with, or you’re walking by yourself, you don’t really need towear a mask. What I would recommend is that you carry a mask with you in caseyou do have to be in a situation where you’re in close proximity to others. Butyou don’t need to exercise in the mask when you’re in that situation.”

Dr. Fialkow: “Do you have any other thoughts you’d like to add?”

Dr. Johnson: “I feel like this community responded when we askedpeople to stay home. And we were really able to see the power that thiscommunity had in bending that curve and reducing the transmission. Now we dowant to open up as a community and as an economy, but we still have torecognize that we have that power. And we have the power now for our behaviorto be to wear a mask so that we can open up safely, we can have resources. Andthat our hospitals who not only need to take care of COVID patients, but weneed to continue to take care of all of the other things that we were around totake care of in our community long before there was COVID. People arecontinuing to have strokes and heart attacks, and appendicitis, and broken hipsand we need to take care of those things.

So, these are really important reasons why people need toexert their power to affect this disease.”

Healthcare that Cares

With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 12 hospitals, more than 27,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 200 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.

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