Question:   Are masks really that important to wear?

Wearing a mask to reduce the spread of COVID-19 is very important and I would like to take some time to explain why. Many studies have been done to understand this virus and how it spreads. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it spreads through respiratory droplets that go into the air when a person who has the virus talks, coughs or sneezes. These droplets get onto another person who is in close distance, usually within about 6 feet away. That person may touch their face and spread the virus into their own respiratory system.

The first thing to understand is that no one can fully know who is infected with the virus. Someone may think they are healthy and safe, but they could be a carrier who is asymptomatic. This is very important. For this reason, it is best to think of everyone as a potential carrier of the virus to ensure we protect ourselves.

The mask prevents the spread because when worn over the nose and mouth it prevents the respiratory droplets from going into the air and potentially infecting another person. This means the mask is not primarily there to protect the person wearing it, but is there to protect the other people in the area. When you think of it this way it becomes clear that wearing a mask is an act of kindness towards the people around you.

A simple cloth mask will do the job. The N95 masks and medical grade masks should be saved for the medical providers. Many people have taken up sewing face masks to distribute in the community. Senior Concerns has some available if needed. Make sure when removing your face mask, you do not touch the inside part that goes against your face. Keep this side clean and wash your mask often. You can hand wash or add to your regular laundry routine. You can dry them or lay flat to air dry, preferably in a sunny spot.

Be sure to wear the mask properly so it covers your nose and mouth. It does not have to be very tight but try to avoid any gaps and ensure a secure fit. It can be tempting to lower it below your nose but doing this will make it useless in preventing spread of the disease. If you find you need to adjust it while wearing it then make sure to clean your hands first to reduce cross contamination.

Gloves are not recommended by the CDC unless you are caring for someone who is sick. For basic errands and tasks, gloves are not required as they can still spread the virus. It is recommended to instead practice good hand washing and be mindful not to touch your face while out in public.

We have heard reports of people who feel that wearing a mask makes it difficult for them to breathe. A light cloth face mask should not reduce your oxygen levels or cause breathing difficulties in most situations. If you have other respiratory problems or there are reasons wearing a mask causes anxiety or other physical or mental consequences, then speak to your healthcare provider about how you can stay safe in an alternate way. It may mean staying home or ensuring proper social distancing to reduce your need to wear a mask.

Wearing a mask, planning ahead to stay safe, practicing social distancing and reducing your time in public crowded places are all ways we can work together to reduce the spread of the virus. These are inconveniences, but they will allow our community to stay safe and get through this. I think of wearing a mask as my way of showing my neighbors that I care about them. This is a simple act of kindness that shows we are all in this together.

Martha Shapiro can reached at Senior Concerns at 805-497-0189 or by email at


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