OHSU doc talks ‘trifecta of COVID-19 prevention’

Coronavirus

Mask, social distancing, hand washing

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Now that wearing a mask is mandatory inside public spaces in several counties in Oregon, there are questions about the pros and cons.

Dr. Gopal Allada, an Associate Professor of Medicine in the division of pulmonary and critical care at the Department of Medicine at OHSU, said masks best prevent the spread of the disease versus preventing contracting it.

“The virus has to travel a certain distance to hit somebody and a mask does a great job of preventing that travel,” Dr. Allada explained. “We were always a little less confident that it can prevent it crossing over into the person wearing the mask.”​

He said it’s important to continue studying the use of masks, as it will become a new norm. However, signs so far show that there aren’t significant harms. When studied, common complaints are that masks are uncomfortable or cause some skin irritation, which Dr. Allada said is typical with anything we put on our faces. ​

​”The real issue that we sometimes get concerned about a little bit more is shortness of breath,” he said. “As you’d expect, somebody who may have underlying heart or lung problems may be more apt to get shortness of breath when they have a mask that’s preventing air from coming in as fast as they’d want.”

He said this may be especially taxing to those who do more physically associated labor. ​While many people can easily do desk work with a mask on for hours, as a pulmonologist Dr. Allada said it’s the high-intensity labor industries where it’s common to hear complaints of difficulty breathing while on the job. ​

If it is a chronic issue, it’s something to talk to your doctor about.

The issue of breathing also has come up as people are heading into gyms to get back into their workout routines. With COVID-19 still spreading in Oregon, he said if people choose exercise at indoor gyms, the smartest and healthiest thing to do is wear a mask, keep social distancing along with frequent hand washing.​

“Those are always going to be the trifecta of prevention,” he said.

Dr. Allada stressed it’s important to wear masks properly, covering both your mouth and nose.​

“You can give people masks and tell them what to do, but how effective it ends up being is dependent on whether they actually wear it and follow the instructions and keep that social distancing,” he said.

If working out indoors with a mask leads to difficulty breathing or difficulty getting the workout intensity you desire, he suggests heading outside to exercise instead in an open space away from others. ​

“Then do the exercise that I do believe is important for all of us to do at this time,”​ Dr. Allada said.

As we’ve now officially hit summer with rising temperatures in the forecast, Dr. Allada said you don’t have to worry about heat being harmful while covering your face. Studies so far show no significant issues with wearing masks in hot conditions.

Overall, he’s feeling optimistic about Oregon’s handling of COVID-19. With a slow and methodical reopening, he said it’s helped the state and healthcare system maintain control over the spread of the disease. With public education and contract tracers in place, if a pocket of people do test positive, he feels like Oregon has the resources in place to prevent it from getting out of control and shutting us down again.

But ultimately, he said the spread of the virus is up to the people and how well they use everything in their power to try and stop it.

Continuing Coverage: Coronavirus

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