Michigan residents are officially being encouraged to wear some sort of face covering when out in public settings in an effort to reduce the spread of coronavirus COVID-19.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in a press conference Monday asked residents to wear homemade masks if they have to leave their homes. Residents are still urged to continue washing their hands, limit leaving their homes to essential trips and practice social distancing.
The governor’s message Monday, April 6, follows the most recent guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and comes with a continued plea to leave N95 and surgical masks for medical professionals already dealing with a shortage of necessary protective equipment.
“Let me be clear though, wearing a mask does not mean that you are immune and that you don’t need to observe all of the other CDC guidelines,” Whitmer said.
“We still need to say six feet away from people when you’re out in public, washing your hands coughing into or sneezing into the crook of your arm. It’s crucial that just wearing a mask doesn’t give you a false sense of security and think that you can resume normal life. It’s just an added protection.”
For weeks, health officials have flip-flopped on whether it’s necessary, or even effective, to wear face coverings in public if people aren’t already ill or caring for someone who is sick.
The CDC previously said healthy people should only wear masks when taking care of someone who was infected with the virus. The World Health Organization recommended the same as health care workers have been dealing with a shortage of personal protective equipment like masks.
Late Friday afternoon, April 4, the CDC pivoted.
The CDC now recommends that people should wear nonsurgical cloth face coverings when they go out in public during the pandemic. Members of the public should still avoid wearing N95 respirators, which should be left for health care professionals who are interacting directly with sick patients.
“We have to leave the surgical masks or N95 masks for our front-line health care workers,” said Michigan Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun.
“If you must go out, you should wear a mask to protect yourself and others. We are asking people to join the MI mask challenge, make a mask from a cloth or a bandana, and wear one every time you go out.”
Wearing some form of covering over your nose and mouth can prevent people who are infected, but not symptomatic, from spreading the virus when they speak, cough or sneeze in public.
Even hours before the CDC came out with its new guidance on masks Friday, The Branch-Hillsdale-St. Joseph Community Health Agency asked the public to avoid wearing masks in public.
“The data from infectious disease experts, and it is well referenced, does not recommend requiring the general public who do not have symptoms of COVID-19 like illness to routinely wear cloth or surgical masks because there is no scientific evidence that they are effective in reducing the risk of virus transmission,” said Medical Director Lauren Vogel in a press release Friday. “Also, we need to preserve the supply of surgical masks for at-risk healthcare workers.
“It remains that social distancing and good hygiene are the best means of reducing COVID-19 spread.”
President Donald Trump announced the CDC’s new guidance Friday during a press conference, but added that he doesn’t think he’ll be wearing one in public.
Michigan Technological University Virologist Ebenezar Tumban said what’s most important is that medical professionals, who are guaranteed to interact with sick patients, need to have access to the N95 masks.
For the rest of the public, he said using homemade masks out of cloth, bandanas or scarves “won’t hurt” and can act as a shield that reduces the likelihood of being infected or infecting others around you.
In late February, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams asked residents to stop buying masks and said they were “not effective in preventing general public from catching coronavirus.”
By April 2, Michigan’s chief medical executive said residents should “strongly consider” wearing masks in public during the pandemic.
“If there is an N95 mask or surgical mask, we want it to go directly to our hospital partners,” Khaldun said. “That said, we know that some people may have a mask at home or they may be able to make a mask out of cloth or a bandana, and if they want to do they can. They should strongly consider it and it certainly won’t cause any harm.”
Claire Danielson, a medical lab scientist at Michigan Tech, said people who chose to wear face coverings and gloves in public need to remember that they’re not meant to be worn all day and to different locations. Additionally, if you wear a mask and you keep adjusting it or you touch other surfaces and don’t wash your hands, you could end up being infected anyway.
“It’s really more about preventing the droplets from being spread,” she said. “It won’t necessarily protect you from getting sick but it might reduce the chances and prevent you from further spreading it.”
One way to make a homemade mask, Danielson said, is sewing a new vacuum filter into a piece of cloth that could be worn to cover your nose and mouth. She said those filters are known to filter out very small particulate matter.
Essexville resident Carol Heron has shared a demonstration for how citizens can sew their own masks at home. She said she follows recommended guidelines for making her masks.[embedded content]
CORONAVIRUS PREVENTION TIPS
In addition to washing hands regularly and not touching your face, officials recommend practicing social distancing, assuming anyone may be carrying the virus. Health officials say you should be staying at least 6 feet away from others and working from home, if possible. Carry hand sanitizer with you, and use disinfecting wipes or disinfecting spray cleaners on frequently-touched surfaces in your home ( door handles, faucets, countertops ) and when you go into places like stores.
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