The Great Mask Debate of 2020 | Wearing a face mask in public

Middle aged female woman wearing face mask outside in the Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic

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The topic of the hour seems to be the great mask debate of 2020. I’ve noticed recent campaigns to wear face masks with slogans like “Lead by Example”, #facemasks, “Save a life, wear a mask”.  Even as our COVID-19 cases rise in the US, there are still daily news castings of people not only voicing their outrage over wearing a face mask. But, there are displays of flat out belligerent behavior such as temper tantrums in stores and harassment of employees and other customers.  I was even more surprised to find that among the healthcare community there are still those who demand studies touting the benefits versus cons of wearing a face mask during the pandemic.

At this late hour, chances are high that you’ve already experienced some sort of discomfort or skin ailment from wearing your mask.  There’s acne, dermatitis, ear pain, shortness of breath with exertion, for example. You name it and healthcare providers have had it. We’ve had it literally and figuratively with wearing face masks. So, why do it? 

Wearing a face mask is a proven method of inhibiting the transfer of germs and droplets. The mask doesn’t have any magical or inherent healing capabilities. It’s simply a barrier just like any other piece of personal protective equipment.  Why do you think surgeons wear masks during surgery? It’s to protect patients from their germs. Here we’ll explore the rationale and claims regarding face masks and why you should wear a mask in public.  Let’s settle the great mask debate of 2020.

Viral transmission

  • SARS-CoV-2 is the virus that causes COVID-19, the respiratory disease, that has been wreaking havoc in our communities. The virus is mainly transmitted via direct human to human contact primarily via respiratory droplets. These droplets occur in our saliva and nasal secretions such as when we cough, sneeze, laugh, and speak. If any of these infected droplets come in contact with someone else’s mucous membranes then it presents the opportunity for infection.  Droplets generally do not transmit more than 6 feet.  This is why the CDC and WHO have recommended physical distancing and wearing a face mask while in public.
  • Further complicating the issue is the fact that the virus lives on contaminated surfaces.  This means if you touch contaminated surfaces then touch your eyes, nose, or mouth then the risk of contamination is present. According to an article by the NIH the virus can live on surfaces for sustained periods of time.

SARS-CoV-2 can live on surfaces

  • Plastic and stainless steel surfaces – 2 to 3 days
  • Cardboard – up to 24 hours
  • Copper – 4 hours
  • Aerosols – up to 3 hours

This was an indoor isolated experiment within a lab. So the article does note that other conditions such as temperature, humidity, ventilation, and amount of virus deposited can also affect these times. There’s currently much controversy on the virus being transmitted through the air and how much this may contribute to transmission. 

  • The virus is highly contagious and can be spread prior to the development of symptoms and during clinical manifestation of the illness. It seems to be most infectious early on in its course. It’s also uncertain how long a person may be infectious.  Studies have suggested the virus can be present in nasal or oropharyngeal  specimens for up to 42 days with a median of 24 days (McIntosh 2020).
  • Risk of transmission is highest among prolonged contact in indoor settings.  Most secondary infections occur among households, hospital and long term care facilities where appropriate PPE was not utilized, and other close quarter settings such as cruise ships, shelters, and jails (McIntosh 2020).

Preventive measures

  • The CDC and World Health Organization (WHO) have recommended physical distancing of at least 6 feet apart in public.  People are encouraged to wear masks in order to contain the spread of droplets.  Wearing your mask protects others within your vicinity from your germs
  • Avoid touching your face, especially your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Handwashing and/or using hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
  • Ensure adequate ventilation and attend outdoor events as opposed to indoor, if possible.  If indoor and in public wear your mask.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces. Be sure to observe wet contact guidelines which means the amount of time you need to allow the surface or object to stay wet before using it.

Wearing a face mask

Doctor and children wearing a mask to protect against COVID-19

The rationale for wearing a face mask is essentially to protect others from your secretions and potential spread of the virus. Since asymptomatic individuals can unknowingly spread the virus, it’s recommended to wear a face mask while in public. Situations that present a higher likelihood of infection include public transportation and indoor spaces. It’s been proven that wearing a face mask decreases the spread of the virus.  For example, when 2 symptomatic hair stylists working while infected with COVID-19 wore face masks and serviced 139 clients also wearing face masks none were infected.

Pandemic fatigue

We’re all tired of dealing with the pandemic and the restrictions imposed by it.  You can only watch so much Netflix or keep your kids entertained for so many hours of the day. But, set an example for your children and your family by wearing your face mask while in public. Maintain your physical distance and composure.  Everyone is working hard to create a safe space to shop, eat, and play.  It has been shown that the virus disproportionately affects vulnerable and at risk groups. If wearing a face mask is too much of a burden that day, then consider staying in or going out for a hike in a less populated area. Remember we’re all in this together. The sooner we comply, the sooner we can get back to normal.

This blog post has been about the great mask debate of 2020 and how wearing a face mask in public is for the benefit of ourselves and our communities. Consider wearing your face mask in public to help stop the spread of droplets and germs.


McIntosh, K. (2020). Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19): Epidemiology, virology, and prevention. In A. Bloom (Ed.) UptoDate. Retrieved August 1, 2020. 


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