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As COVID-19 continues to spread, the mask debate has taken center stage across the country, and Hall County is no exception.
For many, wearing a face covering in public has become as familiar as putting on a pair of shoes. Others view it as a violation of their rights or a pointless inconvenience.
The Times interviewed Dr. Garey Huff Jr., a family medicine physician with Northeast Georgia Physicians Group Family Health Associates, to share his professional insight into the arguments surrounding COVID-19 protection.
When should someone wear a mask in public?
Masks, including cloth face coverings, are a critical component against fighting COVID-19 because they have been proven to reduce the spread of the disease, according to Huff.
“They should be worn any time that an individual is in a public space where they cannot maintain adequate social distancing,” Huff said. “They should also be worn in the home if you are planning to be around non-household members.”
He said those who should not don masks include children under the age of 2, people who have severe lung disease or trouble breathing, someone who is incapacitated and those unable to remove a face covering without assistance.
“If a person feels that they may fall into one of these categories, they should contact their medical provider to discuss appropriate options to help prevent COVID-19,” Huff said.
For those who cannot tolerate wearing a mask in public, Huff urges them to stay home while there is still a high level of community transmission of COVID-19.
Some of the most common mask mistakes Huff said he has witnessed in public include those wearing a mask below their nose or below their chin when they feel they are at a safe distance from others. He also said frequently touching or handling the fabric on the mask should be avoided.
“Ideally, the wearer should try to minimize touching the mask, use hand sanitizer every time that they touch any part of the mask and keep the mask on throughout the entire time that they are in public spaces where adequate social distancing is not possible,” he said.
Huff stressed that cloth masks can and should be washed every day after use. If the material displays signs of excessive wear or damage, he recommends throwing it away. He asks people to do the same with disposable non-cloth masks that look visibly soiled.
If a face covering becomes wet, he said people should remove and replace it because a “wet mask becomes difficult to breathe through and is less protective.”
What types of face coverings offer sufficient protection?
The primary purpose of cloth face coverings is to stop respiratory droplets from traveling into the air while the wearer talks, yells, coughs or sneezes, Huff said.
“This prevents the spread of the virus to others,” he said.
Many factors should be considered when purchasing or making a mask, including the material choice, he said. Huff recommends avoiding stretchy cloth and sticking to thicker, more densely woven fabrics, such as quilted cotton or cotton sheets.
Huff offered a simple test for determining a fabric’s protection level: he encourages people to hold it to the light. The fewer holes they can see, he said, the better it will be at filtering droplets.
“When making or buying a cloth mask, it is preferred that the mask have at least two layers of fabric and cover your face from the bridge of your nose to under your chin,” he said. “It should be loose fitting but secure enough to stay in place – particularly when talking.”
One type of COVID-19 protective mask on the market includes those with a small circular valve that closes when the wearer inhales and opens when they exhale.
Huff said these devices allow air and droplets to escape unfiltered, making them less protective than other non-valve face coverings.
For step-by-step instructions on how to make a protective mask, visit nghs.com/covid-19/sewing-instructions. People can also purchase face coverings at popular retailers like Walmart and Target and at these Gainesville clothing stores: Purchase Effect, Image Boutique and Rehab’s Rope.
And for those who still question whether masks are an effective measure against COVID-19, Huff said: “They have been proven to reduce the spread of the disease. They are safe, affordable and easy to use by most people.”