By Pat Staszak, PT

Illinois and Chicago are about a month into phase 4 of the reopening plan. We currently have one of the lower coronavirus growth rates in the country and we are doing much better than our neighboring states, but our numbers have also crept up these last few weeks. The city just topped 200 cases per day on a seven day rolling average, and yesterday, Mayor Lightfoot reinstated some phase 3 restrictions to slow this growth.

Recent news surrounding the coronavirus surge in states without mandatory mask orders, and studies affirming masks efficacy led me to revisit the mask and ppe policy at APT and rethink my actions around wearing masks. Recent evidence suggests that masks work, and we all have to continue to be diligent with wearing masks anytime we are unable to social distance – even when we are outside. 

This week the Wall Street Journal published a story entitled “Face Masks Really Do Matter. The Scientific Evidence is Growing.” And last Tuesday, the Center for Disease Control called on all Americans to wear masks, stating, “Recent studies reveal that masks reduce the spread of the disease, particularly when used universally within communities.” In an editorial published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), the CDC said, “Cloth face coverings are one of the most powerful weapons we have to slow and stop the spread of the virus – particularly when used universally within a community setting.” 

One of the most cited illustrations about how well masks work comes out of Springfield, Missouri in a case that the CDC details on it’s website. Two symptomatic hairdressers who later tested positive for Covid-19, came in contact with 139 clients over 4-8 days. Both the City of Springfield and the shop, a Great Cuts hair salon, had mandatory mask policies, so everyone wore masks, and none of the clients tested positive.

So it is clear that we must wear masks, but it is not always as clear what to do in every circumstance. Let’s review when we should wear masks. At APT we have a 100% mask policy. Since we work inside and often have to touch our patients, our therapists wear kn95 masks, which are one step below N95 for protection from aerosols. If we are within 6 feet of our patients, we also wear a face shield for added protection. 

While out in the community, masks should always be worn when we are inside – shopping, while using public transportation, interacting with coworkers and clients and at restaurants when we are not eating or drinking. In outdoor public places, masks should be worn when it is not possible to maintain 6 feet of distance apart. To me, this means we should always wear masks in our commercial districts and on crowded residential streets.

When on a residential street that is not as crowded, it is okay to go without a mask as long as you make an effort to stay six feet away from others that you may pass on the sidewalk. This means the person without the mask should be the one that has to move 6 feet from the sidewalk towards the street. The same approach applies to those who are exercising. It is fine to go without a mask while running or riding a bike if they can maintain six feet from others. If not, it is their responsibility to move 6 feet away from the person with the mask.  

None of us are enjoying wearing a mask, but it is clear that this is what we must do to control the spread of the coronavirus. As we know, when we wear a mask, we protect others. So please, let’s all work together to keep each other safe and wear those masks!