Could the solution to slowing this pandemic be as simple as a piece of cloth?

Posted May 24, 2020

By Elsa Friis, MA and Susi Hupp, MD on behalf of the Atlanta Behavioral Health Advocates

Source: Shutterstock

I wear a mask to protect my best friend who is undergoing chemo: #MaskingForAFriend.

Who do you wear a mask for?

In recent weeks wearing a mask has become a polarized and politicized issue. Escalating resistance to recommendations has sparked protests, rebellions, fights, and even a fatal shooting. Media has further politicized opinions surrounding wearing masks by highlighting perceived associations between political affiliation and the likelihood of wearing a mask. However, this is not a political issue. This is a health issue that impacts all of humanity.

Masks decrease the ability of the Covid-19 virus to be projected into the air and therefore reduces the spread of the virus. A study published in Nature has suggested that just one minute of loud speaking could generate at least a thousand virus-containing particles that may hang in the air for over eight minutes. This is a scary thought. However, another study published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that covering the mouth with a wet washcloth could dramatically reduce the number of infectious droplets that get out into the air. Could the solution to slowing this pandemic be as simple as a piece of cloth?

Elsa Friis
Source: Elsa Friis

Unfortunately, changing behavior is hard. Preventing the spread of Covid-19 requires people to disrupt their lives. Social distancing becomes more taxing as days turn to weeks and months. Wearing a mask can be hot and uncomfortable, make it more difficult to breathe or speak, and can feel socially awkward. These sacrifices may seem trivial if we believe that the virus is a real threat and can have significant impact. However, because of the insidious nature Covid-19, it’s hard to know when we ourselves may be at risk or when we may be endangering others. It’s easy to tell ourselves that we do not need to wear a mask because we are feeling fine. However, a large percentage of transmissions are due to contact with individuals who have the virus but are not showing symptoms. In fact, a recent editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine called asymptomatic transmission the “Achilles Heel of current strategies to control Covid-19." It is like unknowingly slipping a bomb into someone’s pocket – and never knowing if it goes off or not.

Take a moment to think through the following scenario:

How many more COVID-19 related deaths are OK: 50? 200? 10,000?

Now that you have your number, picture that many people. Think of a room, a football field, or a stadium filled with that number of people.

Now pause and imagine they are your family and friends. Really bring them into your mind. Name them. See their faces.

Now, how many more COVID-19 related deaths are you willing to accept?

Next time you go out, picture the face of the person you do not want to lose and you may find it easier to wear a mask.

A mask is now a part of my everyday life so much so I don’t even notice it anymore. At first, I wore it for a very personal reason, as I am living with my best friend who is undergoing chemo. However, now it is not just about protecting her life; it is about protecting anyone I come in contact with as every person is someone’s best friend, mother, father, or sibling, and may be vulnerable to this horrific disease.

Source: Shutterstock

We all have experienced loss due to COVID-19, including personal freedoms. Those of us who have lost a loved one are also experiencing intolerable depths of grief and pain. However, in these chaotic and challenging times when we may feel like we have no control, there are still small things you can do to save someone’s life.

Please spread the message on why you wear a mask on social media using #MaskingForAFriend. Together we can save lives.