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Sugar House Journal

To wear a mask or not: how to stay informed and protect yourself and your family

Aug 03, 2020 12h01 ● By Drew Crawford

By Drew Crawford | [email protected]

With so many different opinions, sources of information available, and a polarized political climate it can be hard to know what to think about the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance to wear a mask in public to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

In April, the federal government issued a recommendation that masks should be worn in public. However, in Utah, only Salt Lake and Summit counties currently require that residents wear masks. 

Despite findings by Goldman Sachs Research that found that wearing masks can cut the growth rate of COVID-19 from 17.3% to 7.3% weekly, and can help prevent another nationwide lockdown, various Utah residents hold different opinions on whether masks should be mandated statewide in public. 

Dawn Holley, who lives in Woods Cross and occasionally wears masks because of a medical condition, feels that masks can help people from spreading COVID-19, but that many people don’t wear them properly. 

“The main reason I’m against mandatory (mask wearing) is because I know people who have been told by their doctor not to wear them,” Holley explained, clarifying that they were told not to wear them because of underlying health conditions. 

“I feel that making it mandatory gives people the right to be abusive towards other residents,” Holley said. 

Holley feels that masks can be effective, but only if the public is on the same page with correct usage. 

“If they aren’t doing it properly, they are actually making it worse,” Holley said. 

As someone who recently moved to Utah, Tiffany Lewis is concerned about how her actions can affect other people and she emphasizes that the actions of others can have a direct impact on her getting COVID-19 when she is out in public shopping. 

“Up until the mandate happened with the masks, every time I went into Harmons at the Emigration Market, there was always two to three people without their masks on,” Lewis said. 

“I leave there feeling depressed and feeling freaked out that I’m bringing something home to my family.”

“My biggest fear are people in my community and people that I love that can get the virus and not fare well,” Lewis said. “I think outside of the box; I think of other people.” 

When she is out in public, Lewis sees many people that wear a mask, but thinks that too little is being done too late with the public’s behavior with masks. 

“I do feel like people in Sugar House are taking it more seriously here than outside of Salt Lake City proper,” Lewis said. “I feel like we should have opened up with a mask mandate and everything would have been better right now. The last thing I want is for businesses to have to close.”

Eric Moutsos, who created the group Utah Business Revival and held the Blue Rally in support of law enforcement in downtown Salt Lake, feels that a statewide mask mandate would be an infringement on his personal rights and liberties. This is concerning to him because he feels that they wrote the Constitution to protect against these kinds of intrusions. 

“As a former police officer myself, what worries me the most is how the government’s heavy hand, and especially the health department’s heavy hand in trying to regulate people and businesses against their will,” Moutsos said. “That’s what scares me the most. That’s why I push back so hard against the mask idea. It’s not even about the mask. It’s about freedom and liberties that are being taken in the name of safety.”

Moutsos feels that individual liberty should be of primary importance, especially when it is put to the test during a public health concern. 

“There’s viruses all the time, and the government’s role is first and foremost to protect our rights, not to regulate our safety in the way that they have been doing with COVID-19,” Moutsos said.  “I’m so against government using their force and their coercion to try to do this. It’s wrong. It’s unAmerican. It goes against everything that this country stands for, in my opinion.”

Ultimately, Moutsos feels that mask wearing should be a personal choice.

“If you choose to wear it, I respect you. Please respect me to choose not to,” Moustos said. 

With so many different opinions on wearing masks in Utah, how can one stay informed about accurate science and keep themselves safe?

Zoe Heins works as a public health consultant for Leavitt Partners where she serves as a strategic adviser helping clients navigate through these questions and helps educate organizations about preventing the spread of COVID-19.

Heins recognizes that many people’s confusion about what to do to protect themselves from COVID-19 is a result of the new science that is available every day. 

“We’re constantly learning every single day new things about this virus. If the science wasn’t changing from when we had one case to now when we have millions of cases, we would be wrong. So, we’re learning more, it’s a new virus, but that’s scary and confusing for people,” Heins said. 

Heins emphasized that it’s important for everyone to do their part so that they can protect others from the particles that they emit.

“Masks are not very preventive, but they work very well with source control. My mask protects you and your mask protects me,” Heins explained. “Really by not wearing a mask you’re putting me at risk, and I’m trying to protect you by wearing my own mask.” 

As the science continues to be updated Heins has recommendations for how to understand scientific research. 

“When something sounds too catchy or too extreme check the sources. There’s usually a link to some sort of a source. Be ready for things to be changing and be careful in all that you do. 

There’s usually much more nuance in everything than you can read from a headline, and if you actually read through an article and read through the sources. Dig deeper. Don’t trust the headline and the first paragraph of the article. Look further,” Heins said. 

Joscelyn Tueller, a registered nurse, notes that the science behind the benefit of wearing masks for those that can is straightforward if people pay attention and take time to carefully study the research. Tueller wants people to recognize that wearing masks is a public health issue and should not be politicized. 

“In everyday life when you talk, when you sing, when you cough or sneeze, you expel particles from your body,” Tueller said. “It’s really just a physics problem. The virus or bacteria attaches to moisture particles, so wearing a mask is just a way to block that. It’s helping you block the particles that come from your body if you’re possibly infected, from going out to other people.”

Although different studies have shown that different types of materials block a different number of particles, Tueller wants people to know that the benefits of wearing a mask far outweigh the costs.

“Basically, the conclusion on this is that blocking more particles is better, and it might not block everything, but some protection is better than no protection at all. It’s like wearing a seatbelt: there’s still going to be people who get in car accidents who were wearing their seatbelts who will die or get seriously injured, but seatbelts save lives,” Tueller explained. 

“It’s not 100% foolproof method, no, but it’s better to wear your seatbelt than not have any protection at all. It’s better to wear a mask than not have any protection at all.”

To help others cut through all of the noise and varied opinions about mask wearing, some local groups such as BYU science professors are putting forward information to help clarify why scientific guidance evolves over time. The article published by Benjamin Abott and associates can be found on BYU’s website. 

The research article summarizes 115 papers and shows a universal consensus in the efficacy of mask wearing.

The report titled, “Making Sense of the Research on COVID-19 and Masks” details how at the beginning of the year, scientists did not have much information about how the virus could be spread by talking or breathing. Additionally, scientists did not know that the virus could be spread by those who have it but do not show symptoms (formally known as asymptomatic carriers). 

This, combined with a nationwide mask shortage lead scientists at the time to say that it was unnecessary to wear face coverings in public. 

The article details how evidence from controlled experiments and field observations lead scientists to change their guidance and show that properly wearing a mask can protect others from you spreading the virus to them if you are sick or sick and not showing any symptoms. 

Wearing a mask also has to be done correctly in order to be effective, and it is essential to protecting others and yourself from transmitting COVID-19. 

The American Medical Association has also created diagrams that are available online that illustrate how to wear a mask correctly in five simple steps. 

First, you should wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water before putting a mask on so that you don’t contaminate it with bacteria. Second, secure mask ties behind your ears and head without touching your face. Third, do not touch your face or the front of your mask while wearing it, as doing so could infect you with COVID-19 if you have come into contact with it. Fourth, when removing the mask, do so by the ear ties without touching the mask or your face. Five, wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water after removing the mask. 

Face masks should also be washed or laundered on a frequent basis with soap and water to avoid contamination. 

While some people cannot wear masks, the existing body of research shows that most people can wear masks without suffering any adverse effects. The only groups of people that shouldn’t wear a mask in public are those who can’t adjust it or remove it such as children under 2 years old, and people who have conditions that make it hard to breathe.