CDC, health officials recommend face coverings as protection from COVID-19

Laisa Chavez Macias, a local fashion designer, has started making face masks, which she donates to health care workers and those in need. (Elsa Cavazos/Valley Morning Star)

As government agencies and local health departments discuss large scale measures to slow the rate of Coronavirus infections in the United States, local health officials continue to promote additional ways to keep the community safe from the virus.

In addition to the already established methods like social distancing, frequent hand washing, and the importance of complying with local “shelter in place” orders, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as local health experts, are recommending that local residents wear face coverings when leaving their homes for necessary trips.

According to information from the CDC, cloth face coverings should be worn in public settings where social distancing methods may be difficult to maintain, such as the grocery store or the pharmacy. According to the CDC, face coverings can be made from low-cost materials, or even items found around the home and should have the following characteristics:

  • Fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face
  • Be secured with ties or ear loops
  • Include multiple layers of fabric
  • Allow for breathing without restriction
  • Be able to be laundered and machine dried without damage or change to shape

Since one of the methods Coronavirus can spread is via respiratory droplets expelled from an infected person, face coverings can help keep healthy individuals from being exposed to those particles, or prevent those who may be infected with COVID-19 but not showing symptoms from unwittingly spreading the virus, said Dr. Christopher Romero, internal medicine specialist and physician adviser at Valley Baptist Medical Center-Harlingen.

“Because social distancing can be difficult in settings such as the grocery store, cloth face coverings can help slow or prevent the transmission of COVID-19 from person to person,” he said. “While the best protection is still complying with local shelter in place orders and leaving your home only when absolutely necessary, wearing a face covering when doing so is a good way to protect yourself.”

While the CDC does recommend the use of face coverings when leaving your home, local residents do not need to purchase professional grade protective equipment such as N95 or surgical masks. Such equipment should be reserved for healthcare providers, Romero said.

In addition to new guidelines regarding face coverings, social distancing remains one of the best ways to protect against the virus. The concept of social distancing encourages maintaining a space of six feet between individuals whenever possible.

Romero said that as healthcare providers continue to assess and adapt to the COVID-19 situation, the community can play a major role in those efforts by practicing simple activities such like social distancing.

“For now we do not have an FDA-approved medication to treat COVID-19 or a vaccine to prevent the infection in the first place,” he said. “Until we have those tools to combat this virus, prevention is the best thing we can do to protect ourselves and our community.”

Romero said that things like hand washing, limiting travel, staying away from others when you are sick, and social distancing can help protect the vulnerable members of our community, including the elderly and those with underlying health conditions.

“Many people who become infected with COVID-19 may not even know they are spreading the virus before they develop symptoms, or may experience mild symptoms that they believe are a more minor infection,” he said. “If they are not careful and take appropriate precautions such as social distancing and frequent hand washing, they may spread the infection to those who can develop more serious infections, or even die from COVID-19.”

Although social distancing is a means to combat exposure to Coronavirus, Romero warned against gathering in large groups, even if distance between individuals is maintained since the virus can be spread through means other than respiratory exposure.

“While social distancing certainly reduces the spread of infection, it does not eliminate it,” he said. “The virus is also spread by exposure to contaminated objects that others may touch as well, such as door knobs, sink handles, utensils, and many other common surfaces. Now that COVID-19 has been identified in our community, it is up to all of us to do everything we can to reduce its spread, including postponing social gatherings.”

When unable to practice effective social distancing, such as when venturing to the grocery store, Romero said there are steps you can take to protect yourself from COVID-19.

“This is where washing your hands frequently comes into play,” he said. “Also, use sanitation wipes on shared items such as shopping carts when available, and avoid touching your face.”

While measures such as social distancing and shelter in place notices from county officials may seem like over-reactions, Romero said such steps are necessary and vital to help end the COVID-19 situation as soon as possible.

“In this challenging time, it’s important for us all to not only be concerned about our well-being, but for the well-being of those in our community who are most vulnerable,” He said. “If you are young and healthy you may feel invincible to threats like COVID-19. But even young people can get dangerously ill, and also act as carriers and spread the infection to others. None of us should feel shy about telling others to stay away or not visit us if they are sick. The more we reduce the spread of COVID-19, the sooner this pandemic will be over for all of us.”

MORE INFORMATION

  • As recommended by the CDC and local health officials, individuals should wear a cloth face covering if they need to leave their home for essential travel.
  • Stay home if you have a cold to prevent the spread of infection.
  • Washing hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or use alcohol based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your face.
  • Keep six feet away from people who are potentially sick.
  • Contact your physician and seek medical care if you are having trouble breathing, confusion, or high fever.
  • If you will be seeking medical care for symptoms that you think may be from COVID-19, please call ahead to notify your physician so that they may be ready for your arrival.

For more information, visit the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention website (www.CDC.gov), as well as the Cameron County Public Health Department website (www.cameroncounty.us/publichealth/