The Trump administration is working on finalizing new national guidelines that urge most, if not all, Americans to wear some form of face mask when leaving their homes — a message local and state health officials are also pushing.
Alaska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink explained the reasoning behind the push for increased used of masks in a meeting with reporters Wednesday. “We really want to keep the N-95 masks and the surgical masks as much as possible for our health care workforce,” she said. “But we’re learning of more and more cases where people have asymptomatic spread. So I think it’s important to remember that the handmade masks are a potential way to have asymptomatic people not spread the virus to other people.
“It’s not a great way to protect yourself, but it may help to prevent from spreading it to other people,” she said.
The same message was communicated by members of the Fairbanks Memorial Hospital medical staff Wednesday.
Dr. Mark Simon, an emergency physician at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, explained in detail what health care professionals are hoping for.
“By homemade masks we mean non-medical grade masks and masks that aren’t used by health care personnel,” he said.
This matches federal officials’ recommendations as well. Due to the short supply, the goal is to keep the N-95 respirators and surgical masks for those dealing directly with the sick.
“The main reason for the use of homemade masks is to protect those around you from you,” Simon said. “We know that when we talk, when we laugh, when we cough, we emit tiny droplets. These droplets can contain infectious viruses.”
Simon further explained that COVID-19 in particular is often carried by those who are unaware they have the disease yet.
“We know that people with COVID-19 may have very mild symptoms or even no symptoms at all, and yet they are still able to transmit infection to others. That person with an infection but little or no symptoms may be me. And that person could be you,” he said. “This is the reason for everyone to cover up with a homemade mask when out in public to limit the number of droplets each of us emit, droplets that may contain the virus causing COVID-19.
“We know this disease is in our community. We know this disease is spreading. Public use of a homemade mask is one more step we can all take to limit our role in spreading COVID-19 in our community.”
Another benefit of wearing the masks is that it will keep individuals from touching their faces, another way the virus can be spread from dirty hands that have touched infected surfaces such as public doorknobs, Simon added.
Fairbanks Memorial Hospital has posted a YouTube video for how to sew your own mask. More information can be found at www.bit.ly/2X0cPQ6.
Contact staff writer Erin McGroarty at 459-7544. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMpolitics.