Health officials now urge the use of face masks in public

JACKSON, Wyo. — State and county health officials are now recommending wearing cloth face coverings for anyone in a public setting.

Following the cue of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), state health officer Dr. Alicia Harrist now recommends all Wyomingites wear some type of cloth face coverings in public settings where other measures meant to keep people apart are difficult to maintain such as grocery stores and pharmacies due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

The evidence is clear, many infected with COVID-19 are able to transmit the disease long before showing symptoms.

“This means the virus can spread between people who are close to each other without them realizing it is happening. That’s the reason for this change and new recommendation,” Harrist said. “If and when you do need to go out into the community, this is an extra voluntary measure CDC is suggesting to help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others.”

County district health officer Dr. Travis Riddell is also urging the use of cloth face coverings, making it Recommendation #7 for county residents. He says masks may help decrease the chances of the wearer getting sick—”If nothing else, they keep you from touching your face,” he said—but mostly they prevent an infected person who is wearing the mask from spreading the virus.

“Imagine a cottonwood tree surrounded by fields of freshly tilled soil. It would be far easier and more effective to cover up the tree than to try to cover up every square foot of soil where a seed might take root,” Riddell says. “The problem is, we can’t be sure whose pie hole is a cottonwood tree in seed.”

Councilman Jim Stanford dons his face covering during a meeting Monday night. Photo: Courtesy TOJ

What masks work

So, what kind of mask should you be using?

First off, leave the medical gear to the professionals.

“These are definitely not the same thing as surgical masks or N-95 respirators. Those types of masks are vital supplies right now across the country and we need to save them for healthcare workers and other medical first responders,” Harrist said.

Cloth face coverings may be fashioned from household items or made at home from common materials at low cost. That cowboy wild rag will work. So will the bandana your lab has been wearing. (You might want to wash that first). In fact, you should wash your face covering often.

What type of material works best?

A recent article in the New York Times quotes Dr. Scott Segal saying, “Hold it up to a bright light. If light passes really easily through the fibers and you can almost see the fibers, it’s not a good fabric. If it’s a denser weave of thicker material and light doesn’t pass through it as much, that’s the material you want to use.”

Cloth face coverings should not be placed on children younger than age 2, anyone who has trouble breathing or anyone who can’t take the covering off without help. When removing the coverings, people should be careful not to touch their eyes, nose and mouth and should wash hands immediately after removing.

Why masks work

To “protect and serve.” Notice: protect comes first. Jackson Police Department officers will be wearing face coverings to protect themselves and the community during interactions with the public. Photo courtesy JPD

Stand back, here comes the science. A typical cough contains some 3,000 droplets. They can remain floating in the air for up to 3 hours. These disease-filled expectorants can survive on cardboard for a day and 2-3 days on plastics.

Dr. Riddell points out two recent studies showing the importance of masking up.

SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), may be aerosolized from normal breathing, according to a letter by a committee of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. The letter, sent to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy on April 1, cites numerous studies indicating the presence of coronavirus in aerosols.

In one, air samples collected more than 6 feet from two patients in COVID-19 isolation rooms tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 RNA.

In another study, patients with seasonal coronaviruses (other than SARS-CoV-2) were randomized to exhale breath with or without surgical face masks on. Viral RNA was detected in 40% of aerosols and 30% of respiratory droplets collected from participants without a face mask—but in none collected from those wearing a mask.

“This is a cooperative, ‘I protect you; you protect me’ approach,” Riddell says in strongly urging people to wear face coverings of some kind.


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