Debates over masks are also raging in Arizona, where our sibling paper, Phoenix New Times, recently cut through the clutter by putting its twenty most pressing questions on the subject to experts at Arizona State University. The answers were so interesting — particularly in light of spiking case counts in Arizona, which Governor Jared Polis has referenced with alarm — that we put the same inquiries (with a few tweaks) to one of the most important figures in Colorado's response to the novel coronavirus: Dr. Eric France, chief medical officer for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
His answers, delivered via email, will give folks on both sides of the mask issue plenty to chew on — aside from the fabric that may or may not be stretched across their lips.
1. Do masks actually work to slow disease transmission?
Yes. COVID is spread through respiratory droplets. Wearing a mask can help prevent you from accidentally spreading droplets to others while you speak, cough, sneeze or breathe.
2. Could a lack of widespread mask-wearing cause a spike in cases?
Yes. Our model findings indicate that increased mask wearing would be beneficial for controlling the COVID-19 epidemic.
3. If I'm not infected but am wearing a mask while talking face-to-face with someone infected with COVID-19, do I get any benefit?
Think of cloth mask-wearing as acting at the population level rather than the individual, one-on-one conversation level. If we all wear cloth masks, we may reduce the overall risk of infection for our community. The best protection is two people wearing a cloth mask while physically distancing.
4. Do people touch their faces less while wearing masks?
It is important to avoid touching your face. Wearing a mask may help you have less direct contact with your face. It can serve as a reminder to not touch your face, and if you accidentally slip up, you will be touching your mask instead of your face, which can provide some protection.
5. What if I really hate wearing a mask?
You’re not alone! Many people do not like wearing masks. We do it to keep ourselves, our neighbors and our families safe.
6. What if I feel wearing a mask is an infringement on my individual identity?
Research shows that people who have no symptoms can spread COVID-19. Wearing a non-medical face mask helps minimize the spread of the virus and is an important tool.
7. Am I sending a political signal just by wearing a mask?
No. You are showing that you care about the well-being of others.
8. Will I look weak/stupid/ugly in a mask?
No. You are showing that you care about the well-being of others and are committed to helping Colorado move forward and flatten the curve. Additionally, if you are worried about the way you may look in a mask, there are lots of creative ways to construct a mask that help show your personality while staying protected. The Colorado Mask Project has great ideas for creative DIY masks.
9. What should I do if someone who's not wearing a mask suddenly gets up in my (masked) grill?
If you feel uncomfortable in a situation, it’s important to take yourself out of it.
10. Should I ever admonish a store employee or fellow citizen, even gently, for not wearing a mask?
We are all in this together. It’s every Coloradan’s daily decisions that can help us continue to flatten the curve, and masks are an important part of our strategy. However, it is important to remember that there are reasons a person may choose not to wear a mask. People with certain illnesses or disabilities may not be able to wear a mask. We also recognize that for people of color, racial bias and stereotypes of criminality have created real fears about going out in public with a mask or face covering.