By Pat Staszak, PT
Over the last month Governor Pritzker, Mayor Lightfoot and our Alderman Harry Osterman have all repeatedly encouraged us to wear face masks while out in public and unable to maintain social distancing. And as I am sure you have heard, starting today, May 1st, Illinois residents will be required to wear face masks when in environments in which social distancing is not possible.
As the owner of an essential business who recently adopted a Greyhound, I have to be outside in the world – seeing patients face to face, walking the dog, and running normal work and life errands. I recently decided to wear a mask every time I am in public – even when walking the dog. I am doing it to provide an example to others, and as a healthcare professional and responsible adult I feel it is my civic duty.
Of course at Andersonville Physical Therapy we have a 100% mask policy – every person who walks into our clinic wears a mask. We ask that everyone brings their own masks, but if they do not have one we provide them with a paper surgical mask. We have N95 masks on order and hope to have those for our therapists who are providing patient care in the next week.
There is controversy around wearing masks. A properly fitted N95 mask is the gold standard and filters at least 95% of airborne articles which flow through it, but they are in short supply and reserved for medical workers. They are extremely effective at protecting the wearer from being infected by others, as well as protecting others from being infected by the wearer.
Simple surgical masks or homemade masks are not as effective as N95 masks, and full disclosure – they are uncomfortable and fog up my glasses (washing the glasses with soap or shaving cream helps). The research to date suggests they do a much better job of protecting other people from you than protecting you from other people. By providing a barrier for an infected person’s respiratory droplets, it may prevent spreading the virus to others. This is especially important because as the CDC cites, recent studies have shown that a “significant portion” of people infected with the Coronavirus are asymptomatic and can spread the virus to others. So it is true that wearing a cloth or surgical mask in public is not 100% effective in containing the virus, but it does help to protect others from becoming infected, and it is helpful for the wearer to stop touching their face.
At APT we are doing our part, because we are all in this together. Wearing a mask, social distancing, frequent hand washing and staying home are all simple, but significant actions each of us can take every day.
So please, when you are in public wear your mask so you can protect others, continue following social distancing guidelines and wash those hands!!