PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Sure, the COVID vaccine is being rolled out. But the little cloth mask is the real star in helping slow the spread of the coronavirus.
“We really needed to step up and start sharing a clear message around what we can do to slow this thing down as communities, at the local level, at the national level, at every possible level,” said Dr. John Lynch with the Universtiry of Washington Department of Medicine, where he’s an associate professor.
Lynch is also a board member with the Infectious Diseases Society of America. After a year of experience, research and data, they felt like as a nation we’re still behind.
He said we need to continue with fervor using what we know works to slow the spread. Things like masking, physical distancing, staying home when you’re sick, isolating the infected, and quarantining people who have come in close contact.
But at this point, there is one tool that is most prevalent of all: your little cloth mask.
“Masking in this year has proven more than ever to be a really effective tool against slowing down the transmission of COVID-19,” Dr. Lynch said.
Other countries like Taiwan and New Zealand, for example, were countries whose governments took swift action in January 2020 — and their citizens followed suit, collectively accepting mask mandates and adhering to robust contact tracing and quarantining requirements.
Those countries had a brief time (a matter of a couple of months) of pandemic procedures, but quickly returned to post pandemic life as early as last summer. They even had normal huge New Year’s Eve celebrations last week, with gatherings of tens of thousands of people in one place.
Oregon State University Global Health Professor Dr. Chunhuei Chi has also been vigorously researching COVID-19 since January 2020. Being from Taiwan, he studied their pandemic approach closely to figure out why they had so much more success than the rest of the world, the US included.
As a specialist in health policy, with his findings he’s spent the past year teaching people all over the world, how to better handle the virus.
We now know airborne transmissions of COVID-19 are possible, especially indoors.
Airborne transmission occurs when bacteria or viruses travel on dust particles or on small respiratory droplets that may become aerosolized when people sneeze, cough, laugh, or exhale. They hang in the air much like invisible smoke. They can travel on air currents over considerable distances. These droplets are loaded with infectious particles.
This means the virus can hang in the air, even after an infected person has left the room. This knowledge means masks strongly prevail over a “6-foot rule.”
Oregon Health Authority’s public health officials have long determined that private parties and get-togethers at homes is where and when the virus is spreading the most. With this new info about airborne transmission, coupled with a more contagious strain from the UK now in the US, it really ups the ante.
Dr. Chi explained that daily new COVID cases are too high in Oreogn to effectively contact trace, meaning asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic people will go unchecked and likely keep spreading the disease.
In order to shorten the length of the pandemic and get back to normal sooner rather than later, Dr. Lynch said everyone needs to wear masks around anyone outside your household. Yes, he said that includes your bestie.
“Sometimes this is hard for us as humans, as social beings to recognize that we can’t risk assess who has COVID-19. You can have no symptoms with COVID-19 and give it to someone else,” he said. “So wear your mask whenever you’re around someone outside your household, period.”
He stressed that the lockdowns we’re seeing right now are a direct result of not wearing our masks religiously.
“Masking is a way to liberate us, it allows us to become freer and engage in the activities we all want to engage in,” he said.
Then the sooner people get vaccinated the sooner we know people won’t end up in the ER or the ICU — or die.
When will it be over?
“Listening to the new administration’s goals around a million vaccines per day, making vaccines easy and accessible across the country, we could be looking at summer of this year looking a lot different, or maybe the fall looking a lot different and a lot more towards what we would think of as ‘normal’ than getting worse,” Dr. Lynch said.