Sunday, May 10, 2020

Do Masks Protect Us?

Prior to the pandemic, patients who entered my office building were greeted by 2 staff professionals who would assist patients in checking in and performing the usual logistical tasks that occur prior to a medical appointment.  Shortly after the pandemic commenced, I would arrive to work to witness these 2 ladies in rather different garb. They were now fully gowned, masked, gloved and goggled.  Each carried a bottle of hand sanitizer.  If not for their voices, I would not have recognized either of them.  Patients and medical personnel passing by would extend one an open palm to receive a squirt of the precious cleansing elixir. 

While I acknowledge the necessity for staff interfacing with the public to don protection, it was an eerie site for me to witness, even as a medical professional. It is simply a scene that is foreign to most Americans.

I recall when I traveled to Israel for the first time, I was struck at the site of uniformed and armed soldiers ambling everywhere.  Of course, Israelis paid them no mind, similar to how we might react to police or security guards on patrol in our cities.  But, as a first time tourist, it felt as if I were on a movie set.  

I also recall when I was traveling in Asia years ago, that it was very common to see ordinary folks wearing surgical masks everywhere.  Was I in the midst of an epidemic?   Was the mask to protect the mask wearer or the community from disease?  Or, might it be an effort to filter out impurities in the air?  Might there be a different cultural basis for shielding the mouth and nose?


Folks wear masks for many reasons.

In the coming days and weeks, we will see more masks in public.  In Ohio, our governor announced that he will set an example by wearing a cloth mask when in public, and has urged Ohioans to do the same.  

Experts have advised us that these masks are not to protect us, but are to protect others from us in the event that we are silently infected.   Nevertheless, I suspect that many will be masking up with the belief that the cloth will prevent coronavirus from reaching them.

Masks will soon take on a normal appearance if they are widely used over the coming months.  Most of what we now take for granted appeared odd and novel when we first encountered it.  What was our reaction the first time we saw a cigarette smoker, sushi or a tattoo?

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