To mask or not to mask
Baker sees no need, but others beg to differ
GOV. CHARLIE BAKER, who is leading efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19 in Massachusetts, doesn’t see a need to wear a mask as he holds press conferences at the State House or travels around the state, as he did on Wednesday visiting a new field medical station in Worcester.
“I think the thing we’re doing most of all is practicing social distancing. We almost never have meetings anymore. We have conference calls. This is about as close as I ever get to anyone,” he said, pointing on Monday to the man standing near him who translates his State House press conferences in sign language. “I’ve been closer to this guy than I have been to anyone other than my wife in the past couple of weeks. The thing we can do that’s the easiest and simplest to manage is to live up to the requirements associated with social distancing.”
Baker also noted out that he spends a lot of his time trying to procure masks and other forms of personal protection equipment for hospital workers and emergency responders.
“If we have PPE available, we’re giving it to first responders, emergency medical personnel, and health care workers because they are the ones who spend the most time in close contact with people generally who are symptomatic,” he said.
Brownsberger said most officials who discourage the use of masks seem to be worried that people will start hoarding medical-grade masks and worsen the shortage for frontline workers. The senator acknowledges that is a concern, lamenting the fact that the United States can’t seem to produce enough masks for everyone.
“On the other hand, people should be wearing masks,” Brownsberger said.
The World Health Organization and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that masks are not necessary unless you are sick or caring for someone who is sick. “You do not need to wear a facemask unless you are caring for someone who is sick (and they are not able to wear a facemask),” the CDC says on its website. “Facemasks may be in short supply and they should be saved for caregivers.”
The World Health Organization’s advice is almost identical. “Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing,” it says.
There has been more and more discussion of late in the health care and research communities about whether that advice is correct. Proponents of using masks say they provide some protection from the respiratory droplets that can carry the novel coronavirus and discourage people from touching their hands to their face, a major cause of infection.
Masks are also viewed as a way to prevent someone who is infected from spreading the disease to others. Most of the time people don masks if they are exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, but the governor on Wednesday said at a press conference in Worcester that 20 to 30 percent of those who test positive for the virus never have any symptoms at all.
“Even if it’s not 100 percent protective like n95 masks, it’s probably 95 percent protective,” he said. “I tell my wife and kids, if you have to go out to public places, wear a mask. I’m a total supporter of masks.”
There have been reports that the CDC is holding internal discussions on whether the agency’s advice on masks should be changed to voicing support for face coverings while urging people to refrain from wearing surgical-grade masks that are needed by frontline medical personnel.
There are also strong cultural differences associated with the wearing of masks. Many in Asian countries wear them routinely, convinced they play a key role in decreasing the spread of the virus. People in western countries tend to view masks suspiciously, with many who wear them saying people often stare at them and make comments. Brownsberger said his decision to wear a mask to the State House on Monday prompted a number of comments.
Kim Woo-Ju, a professor of infectious diseases at Korea University College of Medicine, said in a YouTube video that he thinks the attitude of people in Europe and the United States is odd.“One of the reasons Korea has a relatively low rate of infection is because everyone is washing their hands and wearing a mask,” he said.
Michael Jonas contributed to this report.