UPDATE: The CDC has changed its stance on wearing face masks in public.
This change in guidance likely comes from several studies that indicate nearly half of all COVID-19 cases experience no symptoms. Yet, those with COVID-19 and no symptoms are still able to spread the disease. Given this new information, the CDC now recommends that individuals wear simple cloth face masks when in public and maintain a minimum of 6-feet distance from one another. However, the CDC does still maintain that N95 and surgical masks should be reserved for healthcare personnel exclusively. If you would like to learn how to create your own simple cloth face mask, please refer to here.
You can read the President’s Coronavirus Guidelines for America, 30 Days to Slow the Spread by clicking this link.
In February the CDC put out recommendations suggesting the general public did not need to wear face masks to prevent COVID-19 infection. This advice, however, has put millions at risk; in this article, we explore why.
A novel coronavirus is undoubtedly a worldwide event that will be studied in the future by academic communities. Perhaps most worthy of value will be learning what countries did wrong in their responses to the pandemic, which has now infected nearly 1 million people worldwide and killed 50,395 as of April 2nd. The overall peak of the pandemic in the United States, however, is months away according to projections from the University of Washington School of medicine Institute for Health Metrics Evaluation. According to the projections, a peak in cases, hospitalizations, and deaths due to COVID-19 is expected by late April.
This takes into account current social distancing measures, business closing, and data from other countries that have seen large outbreaks as well. With the U.S. quickly climbing to the most infected country in the world, the question must be asked, what went wrong?
One measure some experts are beginning to point out is the lack of science being used to guide policy decisions. On February 29th, with 70 COVID-19 cases and five confirmed cases of community spread, the CDC officially recommended that the general public avoid wearing face masks and that only those infected need to wear masks. In the face of a global respiratory pandemic, the most common form of spread occurs through droplets such as someone sneezing, coughing, or simply breathing. Research from several of the nations leading health institutions such as the NIH (National Institute of Health), Princeton, and UCLA found that COVID-19 can spread up to 24 feet and live 3 hours in the air, all from someone breathing at an average pace. The research also found that COVID-19 can live on some surfaces like plastic for 72 hours, although after just a day, the chance of infection is slim. While the original CDC recommendation stated only those who are infected should wear masks, it’s important to realize how this advice has likely lead to increased transmissions.
The CDC advice is problematic for two reasons. First, testing for COVID-19 in the U.S. was lackluster at best when the nation needed it the most. Looking at South Korea, for example, shows us how early testing was critical in reducing the overall number of infections. South Korea is near the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in China, yet has been able to stave off the pandemic and keep spread from occurring. In part, this is true for South Korea because they began testing early into the pandemic and administered 20,000 tests daily since February. South Korea also relied on tests that would produce results in just hours, as opposed to the first tests sometimes taking several days in the U.S. What this means is South Korea was able to get a clearer picture of community spread and hot spots, which helped inform quarantines and closures. It also meant more infected individuals were caught early, therefore allowing them to self-isolate and avoid public areas. The U.S., however, didn’t begin ramping up tests until late March, which meant anyone who was infected could continue to spread the disease unknowingly. Secondly, data suggests that up to 25% of those infected face no noticeable symptoms. So, countless individuals were wandering around public spaces in the United States, who likely had no symptoms and continued to spread COVID-19. That is why it’s critical to wear a face mask, even if you are not infected.
However, with shortages in PPE nationwide, it may be difficult to come by face masks. The good news is that you can create your own face mask from common materials like certain fabrics used in creating pillowcases, bedsheets, and even t-shirts. These masks are also effective at preventing tiny particles like COVID-19 from being able to enter your nose or mouth. If you would like to learn how to make a face mask and have a sewing machine, then check out our tutorial here. If you do not have a sewing machine, then try this tutorial, which uses an old t-shirt.
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