Masks are the new fashion statement during the pandemic, but how effective are they?

Homemade masks hung up, ready to go for going out during the coronavirus pandemic. | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — There is a line outside JOANN Fabrics in Washington City, and the fabric quarter aisles are empty in the local Walmarts. 

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert wears his face mask during the daily COVID-19 media briefing at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City, Utah on Thursday, April 9, 2020 | Photo by Rick Bowmer, Associated Press, St. George News

Amateur seamsters are making homemade masks in the week since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended people wear homemade and other nonmedical-grade facemasks as part of coronavirus prevention if they can’t avoid self-isolation and social distancing and are in a public place.

The coverings can be as simple as a bandana worn around the nose and mouth, a makeshift cotton mask or a disposable face cover.

The idea of the masks aren’t to keep from getting the virus as much as to avoid spreading it to others – especially those who work in supermarkets, food establishments, post offices and other places where employees still interact with the public during Gov. Gary Herbert’s “Stay Safe, Stay Home” directive.

“One of the reasons to be out is to buy food,” Herbert said last week. “A face mask will make you feel better and help those around you. We ask that you show your respect.”

There was always evidence that people could spread the virus even if they had no symptoms or even any idea they had the virus. That evidence is growing with each passing day. 

“The reasoning behind the mask recommendation to the general public is that we identified asymptomatic spread is not only possible but key,” Dr. Angela Dunn, the state epidemiologist with the Utah Department of Health, said. “The homemade cotton mask can be effective to keep you from transmitting it. But it will not protect you from getting it.”

A study by the American College of Physicians shows the effectiveness of masks against the COVID-19 coronavirus. | Photo courtesy American College of Physicians, t. George News

A study published by the American College of Physicians in the Annals of Internal Medicine on April 6 had some interesting findings in regard to the effectiveness of homemade cotton masks with the COVID-19 coronavirus. 

In tests, patients with the coronavirus wore either a disposable medical mask, a 100% cotton mask or no mask at all.

Overall, the study showed that neither type of mask was no more effective at stopping the COVID-19 virus than they were at stopping the release of influenza germs. However, the cotton mask was 50% more effective than the medical mask, which wasn’t much better than wearing no mask at all. 

That said, the fact that neither mask could provide 100% protection from the virus shows that the most effective prevention by far to avoid getting the coronavirus is social distancing and staying home. 

“Masks are if you’re in a situation where social distancing is impossible,” Dunn said. “Social distancing is paramount.”

As for those working at Dixie Regional Medical Center and Cedar City Hospital, where more effective measures like N95 masks and face shields have been needed, Intermountain Healthcare announced Monday it is making its own face shields through its in-house printing production.

Intermountain Healthcare said it switched its printing production and is manufacturing tens of thousands of protective face shields for Utah caregivers.

Nearly 50,000 face shields are expected to be finished by the end of this week.

COVID-19 information resources

Southern Utah coronavirus count (as of April 13)

Positive COVID-19 tests: 57, including 1 death and 29 recoveries.

  • Washington County: 38 (1 new)
  • Iron County: 15
  • Garfield County: 1
  • Kane County: 3
  • Beaver County: 0

Hospitalized: 3

Tests performed (as of April 8): 3,016

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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