On behalf of the physicians, nurses and care teams at Mercy Health, I ask that you wear a mask when in public places to help slow the spread of COVID-19, and perhaps even eliminate the disease from our community. This simple act can bring great benefit to many people.
Wearing a mask can make all the difference for the people you love, your friends, neighbors and our community. We have the ability to safeguard our older family members and protect those close to us who have underlying health issues. Wearing a mask can reduce threats to our community’s essential workers, including medical personnel, who’ve shown their commitment to our safety, health and well-being. By wearing a mask and helping reduce the numbers of individuals who contract the disease, we can ensure fewer people will suffer serious, long-term effects that continue after recovery from the virus.
In August, the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation projected that US death toll from COVID-19 could reach nearly 300,000. This projection does not include what would happen if more people wore masks. Currently, about half of us in the US wear masks when we go out. If, starting today, that percentage grew to 95%, this would cut the number of deaths by December 1 almost in half. That translates into 66,000 lives saved.
We’re starting to learn just how effective face masks can be, as this example shows: In Missouri, two hair stylists had gone back to work and then found themselves showing symptoms of the disease. They were tested and found positive for COVID-19. In compliance with local ordinances, while working, they had been wearing masks as they interacted with clients in the salon. Their clients also wore masks. Investigators found that none of the stylists’ 139 clients or secondary contacts became ill, and all 67 clients who volunteered to be tested showed no sign of infection. Scores of individuals, perhaps hundreds in the stylists’ community, could have been exposed and potentially infected with COVID-19 if it weren’t for the use of face masks.
The quality of the mask makes a difference. The World Health Organization recommends home-made masks have three layers. Researchers from the United Kingdom determined that combining two layers of 600-thread-count cotton with another material like silk, chiffon or flannel filtered more than 80 percent of small particles (less than 300 nanometers or nm) and more than 90 percent of larger particles (bigger than 300 nm). Though the COVID virus itself is about 125 nm, it is always bonded to something larger than itself – water droplets or aerosols that augment the size and may be effectively filterable by effective masking.
By setting an example and wearing a face mask every time we go out, we can benefit from that effectiveness in Clark and Champaign counties. Currently, Champaign County is the number two hot spot in the state based on the rate of COVID-19 cases in its population. Clark County ranks 41st out of 88 counties. We can improve both those rankings – and spare people illness and death — through the simple act of wearing a mask.
This is why, on behalf of Mercy Health, I ask you to follow these guidelines for safeguarding yourself from COVID-19: when wearing a face mask, be sure it fits properly, extending from the bridge of the nose to the chin, with no gaps along the sides. Wear a mask whenever you visit a public indoor space. When you’re outdoors and unable to maintain a safe social distance of at least six feet from other people, be sure to wear a mask. By combining frequent hand washing and social distancing with the use of a face mask, you are proactively safeguarding yourself, your family, friends and neighbors from the virus. These are important steps that should be shared with those you know, including children ages two and older.
COVID-19 remains a danger to all people. The Catholic Health Association, of which Mercy Health is a member, calls us to Love Thy Neighbor by wearing a face mask. It is a safe, simple and effective way of protecting everyone for the common good. And it shows respect and consideration for frontline workers, caregivers and first responders.
By wearing masks today, we’re working for a future in which our kids’ education is not compromised. One where grandparents can hug their grandkids again. A time when we can go on vacations without fear. The list of all we’ve given up due to COVID-19 is a long one. Together, we can slow the spread of the virus. For yourself, for those you love and all the people who are important in your life, all of us at Mercy Health ask that you wear a mask.
Paul Buchanan, MD, is Chief Clinical Officer, Mercy Health – Springfield.