In today’s briefing, L.A. County Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer talked more about why we should wear masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Her comments come a day after Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered all Californians to wear face coverings when around people outside their households.
“I get a lot of questions about why this is important, especially from individuals who are not worried about becoming infected themselves,” Ferrer said. “The issue here is that you wear it to protect others, especially since you can be infected and have no symptoms.”
The masks the public is asked to wear are not the same as the N95 masks medical professionals wear and they don’t offer the same kind of protection. What cloth masks will do is help protect other people from the wearer’s respiratory droplets, which is one way the virus can spread. And because you can be asymptomatic for up to 14 days (or an asymptomatic carrier who never experiences any symptoms), health officials say it’s important to wear your mask to protect people around you—even when you don’t feel sick.
Ferrer also stressed that you should wear a mask even if you get tested for COVID-19 and the results are negative.
“The results only tell you your status that day,” she said. “You could easily become infected the very next day and pass COVID-19 to others.”
Additionally, those who have already recovered from COVID-19 shouldn’t assume they’re now immune and won’t pass the virus on at any future point. We don’t know yet if someone is immune from the virus after they’ve had it once.
Ferrer said she expects we’ll be asked to wear face coverings for weeks ahead.
“We’re in the middle of a pandemic nothing like we’ve ever experienced and we have an opportunity to care for each other. We do that by being extraordinarily respectful and putting on [face coverings],” she said.
There has been some confusion about face coverings. At first, the public was asked to avoid snapping up protective gear so that some would be left for the frontline workers who needed it immediately while the rest of us stayed home. When the CDC did suggest masks for the general public, it was initially only for those who were sick or who were caring for someone who was. Eventually, the health guidelines changed to what they are now: wear a mask any time you’re around other people.
That turnaround has left many people disputing the face covering requirements, but the turnaround shouldn’t be that surprising. As we continue to learn more about COVID-19, the best practices change.
“The science is evolving, and the CDC is reflecting that,” Joseph Vinetz, MD, a Yale Medicine infectious disease specialist told Yale Medicine. “We should be doing what the CDC recommends. It won’t eliminate the virus, but it will perhaps reduce the rate of transmission.”
There are still several instances when you don’t have to wear a mask, like when you’re at home, when you’re outside and only around people you live with, or when you’re seated at your table at a reopened restaurant or bar. If you choose to go out for a meal or drinks, you should still bring your mask with you and plan to put it on if you get up to the use the restroom or leave your table for any reason.
For more on California’s requirements, click here.