Americans Divided on Wearing Face Masks: Health Officials Say, ‘They're Absolutely Necessary'

A local epidemiologist says wearing a mask as a layer of protection is still very effective and absolutely necessary

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Three months into the coronavirus pandemic, Americans remain divided on whether to wear face masks. The mask-wearing debate seems to be getting stronger, and the message on when and where you should wear them remains unclear for a lot of people.

A local epidemiologist says wearing a mask as a layer of protection is still very much effective and absolutely necessary.

Dr. Diana Cervantes, Director of the Epidemiology program at UNT Health Science Center, says the bottom line: it’s hard to force people to do anything when it comes to public health. The best thing now is to empower people by giving the right information and resources so that we can make the best decisions, she says.

And just like in any area of public health, Cervantes says you have to be open-minded to protect yourself and others around you.

A growing number of studies show face masks reduce the spread of coronavirus, which is why local doctors are sounding the alarm about the need for everyone to wear a face covering.

There is a deepening divide between Americans who are firmly adhering to guidelines issued by public health officials to avoid the spread of the coronavirus, and then those who believe the recommendations are overkill.

Cervantes says risk exposure depends on how a face mask is made and worn, and the percentage of protection against the virus can be significant.

“So, really that protection can range from you know maybe 5 or 10%, to up to 60 or 70%, depending on the type of mask and the situation and how it’s being worn. So, it does range, but again, that’s why you have to think of it as really layering it on, thinking of all of those things you can do in everyday life to prevent that transmission,” said Cervantes.

“We just know from outbreak settings that wearing a mask makes a difference. It does reduce transmission. We’ve seen that from what’s going on, and we’re not talking about academic studies, we’re talking about studies of actual outbreaks in facilities,” said Cervantes. “I definitely get questions from people who say, well you know, if some of these face masks are only 10 or 30% effective, really, what’s the point. But really, when you add it up to everything else - good hand washing, social distancing, wearing the masks - it all adds up. It makes a difference to prevent those chains, because for every infection that we have, again we could have two to three more, and it just builds and builds and builds.”

Cervantes says there are instances where people just can’t tolerate wearing masks because of certain health conditions, for example, it may be difficult to breathe, or someone may be claustrophobic.

She also does not recommend mandating the wearing of masks for a number of reasons, but mainly because it’s really difficult to enforce. She says people will have their own ideas and perceptions of what’s best for them.

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