Letter to the Editor: Greenlee County Health Department Medical Director urges vigilance, continued mask use

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: A young girl secures her mask with loops over her ears. The Greenlee County Health Department Medical Director encourages continued, proper mask use.

Dear Editor:

The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically affected life around the world while the U.S. has experienced one-fourth of the known cases. Until an effective vaccine is widely available, common-sense measures such as the washing of hands, avoiding groups, maintaining a social distance of six feet, and wearing masks while in public are the primary means of restricting the additional spread of COVID.

Resistance to mask use exists, including some based on ideological and political grounds. Yet masks have a long history of being effective at preventing illness and recent work has been confirmatory. During the 1918 influenza pandemic masks were almost the only means of controlling the outbreak. For decades, masks have been utilized in medical settings to protect caregivers from contagious infections such as tuberculosis and to prevent infections in open wounds of surgical patients potentially transmitted by operating room staff. Today masks can provide this same protection to the general public in regards to contracting COVID. Airborne particles containing infectious COVID causing virus are reduced when trapped by the outside of masks providing a measure of protection to the wearer. Likewise, droplets emitted while breathing and speaking are collected on the inside of a mask worn by an infected person. Much of the spread of COVID-19 occurs in the two to three days before an infected person becomes ill as well as from people who never show symptoms. These apparently “well” people are infecting others when not wearing masks. A recent Duke University report notes that even well-made cloth masks markedly reduce virus released when a person speaks, while bandanas and fleece neck gaiters were much less effective.

I’ve witnessed ineffectual or harmful use of face masks in our community. Small, poorly constructed masks do little to protect the wearer or the community, while masks worn under the nose allow infectious viral particles to be either inhaled or exhaled without capture by the mask material. (Would you want your surgeon wearing her mask like this while performing your surgery?) And lastly, I have seen many individuals resting masked chins against bare hands, and adjusting or otherwise playing with their masks. Remember, the outside of the mask is possibly contaminated with the virus – don’t touch it.

COVID infections in Arizona and our communities increased over the summer and now may be decreasing in frequency likely due to strong local efforts to identify and quarantine persons exposed to known COVID individuals. In addition, mask use was adopted early in Eastern Arizona and has also likely contributed significantly to reducing the spread of illness. Continuing to use masks will lessen further infections as schools reopen.  

Regular use of a well-constructed, multi-layered cloth mask of adequate size to cover the nose and chin, with avoidance of touching the mask exterior, and with regular hand washing can reduce the continued transmission of COVID-19. You not only protect yourself, but your friends, family and the community when you do so. Wear a mask. Stay safe and well.

Fred Fox M.D.

Silver City, New Mexico and Clifton, Arizona