Officials urge use of cloth face masks in public, but not in place of other preventative measures

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RBC | As of last week, everyone is urged to wear a cloth or homemade face mask — not the N95 masks needed for healthcare workers — when they go outside, following recommendations from the White House and the Governor’s office.

This is a change in direction for the United States, which initially told Americans face masks were not recommended as prevention for coronavirus.

According to information from the Rio Blanco County Department of Public Health issued Monday, there is increasing evidence that the virus that causes COVID-10 can be spread before someone has symptoms and by infected individuals who don’t show any symptoms. Thus, somone could be infected with the virus and spreading it without realizing it. That new evidence is behind the voluntary public health measure to cover your face.

The recommendations come with caveats about continuing to abide by the other guidelines and being aware that a cloth mask does not provide perfect protection from contagion, and needs to be used correctly.

“While we encourage anyone who desires to wear a cloth mask in public and support the governor’s statement, our main focus is to remind the people that this does not take the place of other preventative measures of protection such as social distancing and hand hygiene. We cannot emphasize this enough: cloth masks do not protect you entirely from getting COVID, so please continue to be vigilant,” Public Health Director Alice Harvey said via email.

According to a post Friday from public health, “additional precautions” are necessary with the use of cloth masks: “While making and using homemade masks may provide you with some form of protection, it is important to understand that this is only if additional precautions are taken.”

Officials are concerned that wearing a homemade mask may contribute to a false sense of security and as such may cause people to stop taking the necessary social distancing and hygiene steps that are critical to slowing the spread of the virus. There are also concerns that telling people to wear masks will contribute to the ongoing shortages of medical-grade masks needed for healthcare workers.

“Locally we are committed to ensuring we have enough masks for our frontline workforce and those who are ill,” Harvey said.

Pointers for proper use of a cloth mask:

  •  Do not touch the front of your mask once it has been worn.
  • Remove your mask using the elastics or straps from behind your ears and launder it immediately.
  • Although it may serve as some kind of a barrier, The COVID-19 virus can still live on the surface of the mask, so it is still extremely important to be aware of the surfaces you are touching in between taking the mask on and off, or adjusting it on your face.