Masking the Real Problem

March 26, 2020

With the new pandemic arousing waves of fear and panic, everyone has many unanswered questions and concerns. Empty shelves are a common sight as more and more people stock up on items as if preparing for an apocalypse. One of the most popular responses—and undoubtedly most hotly discussed—is the face mask.
While they may seem necessary, in reality, there is no scientific evidence to prove that wearing masks keeps people safe from the disease. The stockpiling of face masks is just one example of how there is not enough correct information being circulated and how people, in their complete panic, trust every piece of news they come across. In the state with the fourth-highest number of cases of the disease and with our school district forecasted to be closed for six weeks, Bostonians must do all we can to ensure we remain accurately informed about such issues.
Coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, is the cause of this pandemic. Originating from Wuhan, China, this disease has hit countless countries and resulted in over 100,000 confirmed cases, with thousands more declared each day. Despite these statistics, the disease is not as deadly as some sources make it out to be.
According to Boston Latin School Nurse Sally Almeida, “Some of the frequent misconceptions about COVID-19 include the fact that everyone infected will get severely ill. There are many cases that are mild or asymptomatic.”
Because the coronavirus spreads through airborne particles, there has been a race to stock up on face masks as it is believed to prevent infection. Specifically, there are two types of masks: surgical masks and N95 respirators.
“N95 respirators are fitted to an individual’s face, to prevent leakage around the edge of the mask that is present in a surgical mask. An individual would have to be fitted initially for an N95 respirator and fitted on an annual basis. Surgical masks do not effectively filter small particles from the air, unlike N95 respirators,” says Nurse Almeida. “The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) currently does not recommend that people who are well to wear a face mask to protect themselves from COVID-19 or other respiratory diseases.”
Contrary to what most may believe, wearing a mask can put people without the proper knowledge or training more at risk of infection. According to Dr. Jerome Adams, the U.S. Surgeon General, those who are not used to wearing masks touch their faces more often and may be unaware of necessary procedures: covering both your mouth and nose entirely, cleaning hands before and after removing the mask, replacing masks as soon as they become damp, etc. These are things that are not taught in classes and thus are not common knowledge in America.
“I know the proper way to wear a face mask as when I was back in Hong Kong, it is a serious topic that you will learn in school,” says So Wing Lum (II). “I also review these skills from the internet, but on mostly Asian websites and social media. Schools in America do not pay enough attention to educating students on using a face mask.”
Viruses need a host or living cell to survive and make copies of themselves. Rather than buying masks that they do not know how to use, Americans should focus more on personal hygiene and on refraining from touching their faces. Director of the Center for the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases Dr. Nancy Messonnier says, “the best things that you can do are […] wash your hands, cover your cough, take care of yourself and keep alert to the information that we’re providing.”
We need to recognize that masks must be saved for healthcare professionals who are directly interacting with COVID-19 patients daily and are running low on supplies such as N95 masks. Taking resources away by hoarding them puts the health of entire communities at stake because, without the necessary equipment, healthcare professionals cannot treat the infected, which should be our highest concern.
The current issue with face masks reveals how little real information we have on the coronavirus. Everyone is circulating information, but how much of it is true? What are the origins of the coronavirus? How can we protect ourselves? Even months into the pandemic, there are few answers to these questions, but rather than adding to the hysteria, we must remember to always stay calm, do the research and keep ourselves safe.

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