July 22, 2020

Science

I am lucky that I work with some really smart people. Infectious disease doctors are some of the smartest and funniest around. They can help me understand what is going on better and faster than simply reading about it. Since the beginning of the pandemic in March, the ID doctors at my clinic have been having a weekly video town hall for providers to help use keep up with the science and changes.

Tonight they presented info about masks and materials and explained more about the new vaccine pipeline. What did I learn today? A couple of important insights.

One is that the fit of the mask matters. A study shows that a homemade 2 layer cotton mask can filter almost as well as a surgical mask if there are no gaps. That means the mask lays flat on the face and around the nose and chin. The fit factor is key to prevent droplets from escaping. We all should be aware of our masks and how they fit. This article talks about those considerations and has links to possible solutions. This info can help us “mind the gap”.

Along with this consideration of wearing the most effective mask is thinking more about people who choose not to wear masks. Not such a simple answer. It is easy to get mad and dismiss them; but Julia Marcus, a Harvard epidemiologist, has a thoughtful approach towards mask skeptics and deniers. She writes from a public health background and experience during the AIDS epidemic. She relates mask wearing to condom use. It is an interesting read and is food for thought. Shaming people or getting angry actually causes more harm than good. Providing free masks, just like my clinics have provided free condoms over the years, can help those who don’t have access to a mask, can’t afford one, or forgot to bring one when they left their home. Maybe we can make progress with a gentler approach.

Another thing I thought more about tonight was the incident in Missouri of the hairdressers who potentially exposed 140 clients to COVID-19 but all were wearing masks. No cases confirmed from their exposures. Such good news and reassuring that we can be safe in certain situations if everyone is masked. The other factors is that the time was somewhat limited from 15 to 45 minutes per client, with the hairdresser mostly standing behind them and not face to face. Choose your get togethers accordingly.

Tomorrow probably more about vaccines and immunity. And at the bottom, a bonus post from UW with advice on keeping safe.

Wash your hands, cover your nose, keep safe six, and mind the gaps.

And finally, my caveat is that this is my experience and my opinions, which are subject to change as more information is available, and not related to the organization I work for. Thanks for reading.

https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/06/dudes-who-wont-wear-masks/613375/

https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acsnano.0c03252

https://hbr.org/2020/06/we-need-better-masks

https://www.businessinsider.com/diy-face-mask-n95-ex-apple-engineer-surgical-masks-fit-2020-6

https://rightasrain.uwmedicine.org/well/health/post-quarantine-safety