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University of Washington

University of Washington dean of public health gives advice on where and how (and how not) to wear masks

18-May-2020 3:20 PM EDT, by University of Washington

Beginning May 18, King County is directing residents wear a face covering when in an indoor or outdoor public space where you may come within six feet of someone who does not live with you. The county’s new directive follows CDC recommendations regarding the use of cloth face coverings.

In this advisory, Hilary Godwin, dean of the UW School of Public Health and professor in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, offers some practical information about using masks to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The new directive and CDC guidelines reflect the knowledge that people can have COVID-19 and have no symptoms. Masks are primarily to help protect those around you in the event you have COVID-19 and don’t know it. By covering your nose and mouth, they limit the spread of droplets from coughs and sneezes. 

“Walking down the street, you can circumvent people because it’s not too crowded,” Godwin said, “But when you go into the grocery store where you are going to be coming across people in constrained spaces, that’s when you definitely need to be wearing a mask. And if you’re going to a crowded location outside or you can’t avoid coming in within six feet of people, you’d want to be wearing a face mask there as well.”


Additional quotes from Dean Godwin for publication:

“One of the things that's been really challenging with COVID-19, and was a little unexpected for us, is that people who don't have any symptoms can still have COVID-19 and be capable of spreading it to other people. Because of that, the CDC changed their recommendations to include wearing cloth face coverings, which aren't super great at protecting the wearer but can help protect other people from you. 

“So, if I cough it gets trapped in the mask as opposed to spreading out to other people. And since I could have COVID-19 and not even know it, it's helpful. We want people to wear masks and Public Health Seattle-King County is now requiring that people wear masks if you're out in public and you're going to get within six feet of other people. 

“Where we see the greatest chances for giving someone else COVID-19 is if you're in close proximity to someone for an extended period of time. So, for instance, just standing in line at the grocery store or waiting to check out, you may think: ‘Well, it's only one person I'm interacting with.’ But the person behind the counter is interacting with dozens of people throughout the day, and wearing a face mask is your way of showing them that you care about them enough to put on the face mask and offering them protection. 

“I saw a funny news article about someone who said they don't like the cloth face covering because their glasses fog, which I hear all the time. And so they put a straw in like a little snorkel. And although that seems like a genius move because then their glasses didn’t fog up, it totally negates the effect of having the mask because then the things that you're breathing out are just coming out through your little straw snorkel. So better to find a face mask that fits more quickly around the nose — maybe one that has some clasp there, or fits a little bit more snugly — so your eyeglasses don't fog up.”

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