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Home > Health & Wellness > Protect Yourself from Illness > COVID-19 > FAQs About Wearing Masks
Do you have a question about wearing masks? If so, complete the short form below. We'll respond within two business days with an answer from our infection prevention experts.
Published on August 03, 2020
Mercy encourages everyone to wear a mask and social distance while in public. Doing so remains critical to limiting the spread of COVID-19 and can help reverse any upward trends.
With more businesses opening and activities resuming in the community, it’s more important than ever to be vigilant in protecting our neighbors. The CDC has not altered its recommendation of wearing face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain. Wearing a mask is a simple way for each of us not only to keep our community healthy, but also to ensure we can continue to keep businesses open.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation out there. We've addressed some of them in the frequently asked questions below.
Masks are not airtight. Therefore, carbon dioxide cannot accumulate in dangerous amounts in the space between your face and the mask.
Rather, the extra layers of cloth between the wearer and others reduces the number of droplets that are expelled into the air during everyday activities such as speaking, singing or yelling/cheering, and especially during more forceful exhalations, like sneezing or coughing. Learn more about this from Hartford Healthcare.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends routinely washing cloth face coverings after each wearing. They are safe to put in the washing machine and dryer with other clothes. The process should effectively kill any virus that might remain on the mask.
Remember that wearing a mask does not replace the need to wash or sanitize your hands after touching any public surface, as well as avoid touching your face. Rather, it prevents the wearer from potentially infecting others if the wearer is pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic. Masks should be treated similar to hands and faces: Avoid touching or adjusting a mask with unclean hands. Wearing a mask in public is a simple way that we can all help reduce the spread of COVID-19.
That is incorrect. Consistent with the CDC, OSHA recommends all people wear cloth face coverings when in public and around other people. This is per OSHA’s website.
That is outdated information that was released early in the pandemic when we didn’t have as much information as we do now. Scientists around the world are studying COVID-19 and learning more about it every day. Here are links to the most up-to-date information about wearing masks:
As a novel coronavirus (which means it is a virus that has not previously been found in humans), everyone is still learning about COVID-19. As such, health professionals were basing their early guidance on information we had at the time.
However, scientists around the world are studying COVID-19 and learning more about it every day. This has also allowed time to monitor different strategies for managing the virus. Specifically, countries where the majority of residents wear masks have been able to control the virus more effectively than those where masks are less prevalent.
In fact, according to research led by doctors at Virginia Commonwealth University, countries that implemented masks more quickly have death rates up to 100 times lower than those that didn’t.
Actually, according to Cleveland Clinic, “the more people wear masks in an area, the fewer potential viral droplets go into the space, and the less risk that someone will be exposed to the virus.”
In fact, the effectiveness of the use of cloth masks during a pandemic was actually evaluated back in 2013. According to this study published by the National Institutes of Health, masks “significantly reduced the number of microorganisms expelled.”
While N-95 masks protect the wearer, cloth masks protect others from the wearer. Therefore, Mercy recommends that community members wear masks when in public. The reason for this is to prevent the wearer from potentially infecting others if the wearer is pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic.
The death rate is actually a lagging indicator; Mercy’s Dr. Tony Meyers stated that an increase in positive cases is typically associated with an increase in hospitalizations two to three weeks later. As of August 3, 2020, approximately 3.3% die from COVID-19. Wearing a mask is a simple way that we can all help protect the most vulnerable in our community.
The reason for wearing a mask is actually to prevent the wearer from potentially infecting others if the wearer is pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic. This is because masks help reduce the spread of droplets that are expelled into the air during everyday activities such as speaking, singing or yelling/cheering, and especially during more forceful exhalations, like sneezing or coughing.
As a novel coronavirus (which means it is a virus that has not previously been found in humans), COVID-19 is especially contagious.
For seasonal influenza, we have vaccines, treatments and historical data that shows a death rate of about .1%. For comparison, the CDC data (as of August 3, 2020) shows a COVID-19 death rate of 3.3% — 33 times higher. This is fairly consistent with the Linn County Public Health data.
To put that into perspective, the CDC estimated that 24,000-62,000 Americans died from the flu in the entire 2019-2020 season. As of August 3, 2020, more than 154,000 Americans had died since the outbreak took hold in our country just a few months ago.
Although older people and those with other medical conditions are most at risk for complications related to COVID-19, younger and/or healthier people are not immune. In fact, according to the CDC as of August 3, 2020, 30% of those hospitalized due to the coronavirus are younger than 50 years of age.
It’s true that more cases are being identified due to increased testing. However, the number you want to keep an eye on is the percentage of individuals who are testing positive. As of August 3, 2020, the percent positive was 9.4%. Those numbers are posted here: https://coronavirus.iowa.gov/pages/case-counts.
Respiratory droplets are released from your nose and mouth. It’s essential that a mask fits snugly over the bridge of your nose and chin to create the best possible seal. Leaving your nose uncovered makes you vulnerable to inhaling or expelling viral particles when you breathe, cough, and sneeze, as well as risking contamination from the exterior of your mask.
Wearing a mask is one of several non-pharmaceutical interventions recommended by infectious disease experts to combat the pandemic. Other important safety measures are social distancing, avoiding large gatherings and frequent hand washing. One precaution does not eliminate the need for others. And remember, wearing a mask is a simple way that we can all help protect others.
In this situation, it is still recommended that people continue to wear masks. At this point, we don’t know how long immunity lasts or whether people can be reinfected. While it is unlikely that they would be infected again for at least a few months, we just don’t know yet, so it's best to be safe and continue to wear masks.
Nearly all face coverings can block respiratory droplets. An N95 mask is able to block nearly all small and large airborne particles, which is why it’s considered a critical item for frontline healthcare workers and first responders. Surgical and cloth masks can be very effective at blocking large particles such as respiratory droplets. Cloth masks that include multiple layers of fabric and fit snugly against your face are particularly effective in doing so.
Biohazard containers are not necessary in this situation. Masks and other items that do not contain a significant amount of bodily fluids are not a risk to the general public or garbage handlers because the bodily fluids will not drip out of the bags. This is consistent with the CDC’s guidelines for medical waste, which you can read more about from the CDC.
Researchers are studying the coronavirus to learn more about how it infects people. The latest information from the World Health Organization (WHO) says that the likelihood of becoming infected with COVID-19 from a commercially-produced product is low since it has likely traveled over several days and been exposed to different temperatures and conditions during transit.