LIMA — Cloth face coverings are an increasingly important aspect of Ohio’s plan to reopen businesses safely, but that plan will largely depend on Ohioans voluntarily wearing the homemade masks while shopping or venturing out in public.
And some people — particularly those who have difficulty breathing or who are younger than 2 years old — should not wear face coverings, which could exacerbate breathing problems in those circumstances.
But in most cases, wearing a mask is safe.
The idea is to prevent transmission of the coronavirus, which can spread through respiratory droplets when a person coughs, sneezes or talks, even when the person is not showing symptoms.
“Those people can spread the virus and seem to do so pretty efficiently,” said Dr. Tara Smith, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Kent State University.
Smith said that while there is still much to learn about people who are fully asymptomatic — or who never show symptoms of COVID-19 while they are infected — researchers now know that pre-symptomatic individuals are contagious at least two days before they develop symptoms.
“Wearing that mask will not necessarily protect you from getting ill, but what it will do is keep your droplets in,” Smith said. “… It basically protects others from you if you are carrying this virus and don’t realize it yet.”
Still, face coverings can become uncomfortable when worn for long periods of time. Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton acknowledged as much during a press conference this week, telling Ohioans they should take off their masks when it is safe to do so.
“I cannot think of anyone who needs to wear a mask 24/7,” said Tami Gough, director of prevention and health promotion services for Allen County Public Health. “Some people have that picture in their head that we’re requiring you to wear a mask all the time. There are certainly going to be times where you are going to be more than 6 feet away from people and not encountering people, that you do not need to have your mask on at those points.”
While Ohioans are generally required to wear masks at work, there are exceptions. A person working alone in an office has no reason to cover the face, for example. There are other practical, safety and regulatory situations where face coverings are not recommended.
Customers are not required to wear face coverings in Ohio either, unless store policies state otherwise.
“The general customer doesn’t know what the employees’ experiences are,” Gough said. “There may be reasons why those individuals are not wearing masks. We’re encouraging people to – politely, if they are genuinely concerned about their health – to ask the employee or ask to speak to an employee supervisor just to voice your concerns in a friendly, information-seeking way.”
Reach Mackenzi Klemann at 567-242-0456.