Asian nations have been able to slow the spread of COVID-19 much better than the United States or Europe. They are doing one thing very differently than most Western nations.
They are wearing masks in public. In the West there is a growing belief that we may have looked at this backwards. (Washington Post, DIY Masks, 3/28/20) The CDC said that masks don’t work well to protect the person that wears them, and we need all the masks we have for healthcare workers. They were right, we do need hospital grade masks for our healthcare workers but what we have failed to grasp in the West is that masks do protect each of us to some degree and perhaps even more importantly, masks protect the people around us. The evidence is solid that homemade cloth and even proper paper masks may work to keep our droplets from going to others. These homemade masks or even bandanas also serve another very important role. The main spread between people is from droplets from a person with the virus to our hands or to things we touch and then we bring our hands to our mouth, nose, or eyes without thinking.
Homemade masks and even bandanas can play an important role in keeping our hands away from our face and reminding us to wash our hands frequently so we can touch our faces.
COVID-19 starts with no symptoms. As it spreads, it spreads faster and faster because the walking well are spreading it. Masks, even homemade masks, can protect us from each other. If I am wearing a mask, my droplets will spread less. The Czech republic, one of the first Western nations to start wearing homemade masks, produced a slogan “My mask protects you, your mask protects me”. They started to make cloth masks in bars and homes and literally covered the nation with masks in three days. Austria announced on Monday, they are mandating masks for anyone who enters a grocery store.
Bottom line: Don’t try to buy hospital grade masks, our healthcare workers need them. We can make them. Make them colorful. Let’s call them Aloha Masks and let’s all wear them in public. We will be protecting each other and we will be reminded and prevented from touching our faces when we are out in public. If hospital workers or doctor’s offices want these homemade masks also, let’s give them to our healthcare providers first. They are our heroes.
There is a new Facebook group called Massive Masks for Kauai. It is open to the public and will aid in coordinating people interested in sewing masks. We can do this. Let’s get it done.
This column represents a sharing of information. No content on this column should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinicians.
Lee A Evslin, MD is a Board Certified Pediatrician and Fellow of The American Academy of Pediatrics. He was a former healthcare administrator on Kaua‘i and periodically writes a column for the Garden Island.