Shoppers and essential workers in Pennsylvania are now required to wear face masks while they are in public. Despite a shortage of face masks worldwide, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf announced this measure on Wednesday during a news conference. The order went into effect at 8 pm, on Sunday, April 20th.
Do face masks work in community settings?
Prior to Wolf’s order, the Center For Disease Control (CDC) had previously recommended that people wear cloth face masks if they felt the need to wear them. The question is – do these masks work in community settings and, if so, under what exact circumstances. The World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) criteria for the use of masks (surgical or other) specifically states:
Studies of influenza, influenza-like illness, and human coronaviruses provide evidence that the use of a medical mask can prevent the spread of infectious droplets from an infected person to someone else and potential contamination of the environment by these droplets.13 There is limited evidence that wearing a medical mask by healthy individuals in the households or among contacts of a sick patient, or among attendees of mass gatherings may be beneficial as a preventive measure.14-23 However, there is currently no evidence that wearing a mask (whether medical or other types) by healthy persons in the wider community setting, including universal community masking, can prevent them from infection with respiratory viruses, including COVID-19.https://www.who.int/publications-detail/advice-on-the-use-of-masks-in-the-community-during-home-care-and-in-healthcare-settings-in-the-context-of-the-novel-coronavirus-(2019-ncov)-outbreak
WHO guidance specifically states “there is currently NO EVIDENCE that wearing a mask..in the wider community setting….can prevent them from infection with respiratory viruses.” However, Gov. Wolf decided to levy this additional requirement on all citizens of the state as the peak of this “pandemic” has occurred and we are hopefully headed towards the downside of its spread.
In addition to the current WHO guidance above, let’s look at what the WHO says about the proper use of surgical or other masks. The WHO website clearly states that masks should be one-time use, with use of hand-sanitizer (or handwashing) before and after masking, never touch your mask with your hands while wearing,” Do we really think that all the masks folks are wearing in public have only been used once per outing? Have they been disinfected/properly washed (if cloth masks) prior to wearing for the second outing? How many folks know NOT to touch the masks, remove them only from behind, etc? WHO guidance:
- Before putting on a mask, clean hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
- Cover mouth and nose with mask and make sure there are no gaps between your face and the mask.
- Avoid touching the mask while using it; if you do, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
- Replace the mask with a new one as soon as it is damp and do not re-use single-use masks.
- To remove the mask: remove it from behind (do not touch the front of mask); discard immediately in a closed bin; clean hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
Big government puts more burdens on businesses…
The current order from Governor Wolf will require customers to wear face masks, and states that businesses must deny entry to customers not wearing face masks. With the exception of health care providers.
The order continues to state that businesses that provide medication, medical supplies, or food must find some sort of alternative to providing customers with pick-up or carry-out if they are without a mask. Gov. Wolf puts the burden on businesses – small and large – to figure out how to “find some sort of alternative …(by) providing customers with pick up or carry out if they are without a mask?” Who picks up the extra costs involved?
Does the public have ready, easy access to one-use face masks?
The Governor has now stated that you must wear a face mask when you are out in public, or you will risk being denied entry into businesses. It doesn’t seem like a big deal when you first read it. But:
- What about the people who have had their face masks on backorder for months now?
- What about the people who don’t have face masks – because every time you walk into a pharmacy like Walgreens or CVS, or even your local grocery store, there are none?
- The demand for face masks worldwide has caused a shortage.
Perhaps a better time for this order to have been passed might have been at the onset of the Coronavirus outbreak. How many tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians how gone in and out of pharmacies, home improvement stores, and grocery stores over the last four-plus weeks without masks?
Mr. Governor, maybe before you issue such an order you should have ensured masks were readily available for citizens to comply with the order. More importantly, your Health Advisor ought to be more aware of the health standards set out in WHO publications specifically addressing the spread of COVID-19 and the lack of evidence that masks stop the spread in community settings (excluding the use of masks for ill-persons or susceptible individuals).