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

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July 9, 2020

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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 and conspiracy theories circulated on social media, medical professionals continue to reinforce the message that wearing face coverings is not only safe, it is also proven to slow the spread of the virus, saving thousands upon thousands of lives.

“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 and other Baptist HealthTalk podcast episodes on your computer or smartphone, 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 with wearing masks in the hospital environment, and that’s not been our experience that people were either unable to breathe, or they were at risk of developing pneumonia.”

Dr. Fialkow: “The masks are to prevent particulate matter or droplets from going from you to someone else, or from someone else to you. They don’t prevent oxygen inhalation or carbon dioxide exhalation. So, they really don’t affect your respiration at all.”

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

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

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

But if I have it and I don’t know it, and I’m wearing a mask, 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’t transmit it, then that thread is broken right there. And that’s what we’re trying to do is to break all of these threads.”

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

Dr. Johnson: “Well, I think we definitely have more data on the surgical masks that are multiple layers in terms of being able to prevent the spread. But I have seen demonstrations of even just a simple cloth mask, where they’ve asked somebody to talk in front of a petri dish with a mask and without a mask. And there’s definitely a difference in what grows on the petri dish with 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 somebody sneezing, as you can imagine. So, while we don’t have tremendous amounts of data about the cloth mask and how much it transmits, even if it reduces it only 50 percent, that’s going to be a tremendous difference in how many people we have to take care of in a hospital setting.”

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

Dr. Johnson: “One of the things that we do know is that transmission is much less outside. So, if you’re talking and you’re either walking with the people you live with, or you’re walking by yourself, you don’t really need to wear a mask. What I would recommend is that you carry a mask with you in case you do have to be in a situation where you’re in close proximity to others. But you 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 asked people to stay home. And we were really able to see the power that this community had in bending that curve and reducing the transmission. Now we do want to open up as a community and as an economy, but we still have to recognize that we have that power. And we have the power now for our behavior to be to wear a mask so that we can open up safely, we can have resources. And that our hospitals who not only need to take care of COVID patients, but we need to continue to take care of all of the other things that we were around to take care of in our community long before there was COVID. People are continuing to have strokes and heart attacks, and appendicitis, and broken hips and we need to take care of those things.

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

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