To mask or not to mask….

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COVID-19 is changing the way we live our lives from the ground up. The new (and sometimes incorrect) recommendations circulating can leave us in a tailspin.  Most people get the basics.  Wash your hands.  No, really, wash your hands.  Sing “Happy Birthday” … count to twenty… do whatever you have to do to make sure your hands get the just came off a fishing charter, changed a baby diaper, and then cut raw chicken deep scrubbing they deserve. Or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Don’t touch your face. Ok, louder, for those of you in the back. DON’T TOUCH YOUR FACE. Easier said than done. The average person touches their face up to 3000 times a day. That’s a little over 2-3 times a minute.  Avoid sick people. Like the plague.  If you get sick, don’t panic. Get a COVID-19 test if you meet the requirements (fever, cough, shortness of breath, you get the gist).  Then avoid people like the plague.  Stay home from work, school, and for the love of all things healthy, stay out of Walmart.  Practice good manners and cover that cough.  Use proper etiquette by coughing into your elbow.  Maintain social distancing measures, especially in areas of potential community-based transmission.

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While this remedial information may seem like COVID 101, there is still a lot of confusion circulating on when to mask and when not to mask.  Recommendations seem to change rapidly and casual grocery store people watching reveals we may not all be acting as we should.  At the present time, the Center for Disease Control has recommended using simple cloth face coverings to slow the spread of the COVID-19 and prevent asymptomatic carriers from transmitting the virus.  

What are the appropriate recommendations for when and where to wear a mask?  We asked a local Infectious Disease Specialist, Ali Hassoun, MD, FACP, AAHIVS, FIDSA, to weigh in. 

Questions for the general public:

Should you wear a mask at home?  

No, unless you are taking care of someone who is sick with COVID. 

Should you wear a mask in the car? 

No.

Should you wear a mask while visiting a friend? 

Yes, if you cannot maintain physical distancing.

Should you wear a mask at the doctor’s or dentist’s office? 

Yes.

Should you wear a mask while getting your hair or nails done? 

Yes.

Should you wear a mask to the grocery store and other crowded areas? 

Yes. 

Should you wear a mask during a run or while exercising outside? 

No.

Should you wear gloves? 

No.

Thoughts on hand sanitizer vs. washing hands? 

Hand sanitizer containing 60% alcohol used for 20 seconds is the best way as its more accessible. You should keep hand sanitizer in your car, home, office etc,. Washing your hands with water and soap is also an option but you need several minutes for it to be effective.

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Additional general recommendations to prevent the spread of COVID-19: 

“Physical distancing and hand hygiene are the most important aspects in prevention. Wearing a mask in public is an additional measure that can help. Surgical or procedural face masks are a better option than cloth masks in prevention. The face mask is mainly beneficial when you are in an enclosed space and near other people when you can’t maintain physical distancing of 6 feet or more.  If you use face masks, please remember these can get contaminated easily, so don’t touch the mask. If you take them off place them in a brown or plastic bag. If they are soiled or dirty, get a new one. Cloth masks should be washed with hot water and soap regularly.”

Dr. Ali Hassoun is Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Infectious Diseases. He has been serving the Huntsville – Madison community for more than 15 years. He completed his Internal Medicine Residency from NY Medical College and completed an Infectious Diseases Fellowship at Albert Einstein School of Medicine in Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New York.  He has also practiced in Auckland, New Zealand with the Australasian College of Physicians. Currently he is a Clinical Assistant Professor with UAB School of Medicine – Huntsville campus, an adjunct Faculty with UAH nursing school, Director of Infection Control for Huntsville Hospital, Madison Hospital, and Crestwood Medical Center. Dr. Hassoun also has extensive research experience including presenting manuscripts at local and national scientific meetings as well as writing book chapters.

Information and recommendations regarding COVID-19 are updated almost daily as new scientific data becomes available.  Please continue to check the CDC website for additional updates on COVID-19. 

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