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Ask the Expert: Community Masking

Published in Family Medicine, Infectious Diseases, For the Health of It Author: Kimberly Tjaden,MD

Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated their stance on face masks due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now the CDC recommends wearing masks in places where it’s difficult to stay six feet away from other people.

This latest recommendation was a change from earlier advice from health officials and, understandably, there may be some confusion as a result. To help clarify some specifics of this new policy, we sent out a request via Facebook for the public to submit their community masking questions. We’ve taken some of them and forwarded to Kimberly Tjaden, MD, a family medicine physician at CentraCare – St. Cloud Medical Group South.

Dr. Tjaden has been a member of the Minnesota Medical Association (MMA) and the Minnesota Academy of Family Physicians (MAFP) for over 20 years. She has served on several committees within the MMA — including its Public Health Committee — and now serves on that organization’s Board of Trustees.

Some of Dr. Tjaden’s answers below have been edited for length and clarity.

Q: As you have followed news about COVID-19 and the enactment of our current Stay at Home safety measures, what you have you found most surprising?

Dr. Tjaden: Most surprising to me has been the folks who ignore the measures and are continuing their lives as previously. This is not influenza. We do not have a vaccine or a treatment. This virus is more deadly. I am proud to live in Minnesota where the Minnesota Department of Health and our local public health teams have been out ahead of the curve. Minnesotans have been great at following advice and staying home. I am also very proud to work at CentraCare where they have had a disaster planning team and coordinated and implemented the response really well.

Q: When should one wear a mask in public? Does this include those who are healthy?

Dr. Tjaden: At this time, the recommendation to mask everyone. Anyone could be an asymptomatic carrier (someone carrying the virus but not showing symptoms of the illnesses). Wearing a mask will decrease the risk that one could pass on the illness. Even healthy folks should mask in case they may have a very mild case or have no symptoms.

Additionally, a mask keeps you from touching your face, mouth and nose — which is a common place for the virus to enter the body and begin replicating.

CentraCare Requires All Employees To Wear Masks, Encourages Community To Do The Same
Patients who enter a CentraCare facility will be provided a mask if they exhibit signs and symptoms of a respiratory illness. Well patients are encouraged to wear masks from home. Read more

Q: Previously, the CDC recommended against wearing masks? Why has this now changed?

Dr. Tjaden: The original concern was a lack of resources. There was, and still is, a concern that there will not be enough medical grade masks available when the surge hits our area. The masking recommended now is not for medical grade masks, but homemade masks. The changes in recommendations does not mean that folks can hang out and be together now. Good hand hygiene and social distancing are still highly recommended.

Q: Here’s a question we received via Facebook. Does the type of material used in a homemade mask make a difference?

Dr. Tjaden: No, at this time, any household material is recommended.

Q: How should one go about removing and washing their mask? How frequently should this be done?

Dr. Tjaden: Masks can be washed in your home washing machines as often as needed. For removal, individuals should be careful not to touch their eyes, nose and mouth when removing their face covering and wash hands immediately after removing.

Q: As a physician, what things you have you seen in your work life due to COVID-19 that is unprecedented?

Dr. Tjaden: I have missed the contacts I have with my patients. I am grateful for my team and for the great group of folks who are guiding us through this epidemic. I appreciate the video and phone visits that we are able to do to contact our patients.

Q: Do you feel there are parts of preventing COVID-19 that are not being emphasized enough right now?

Dr. Tjaden: There are folks and entire states who are not taking this seriously. They may feel a false sense of security that it won’t happen in their neighborhood or region. This is not the case. It is likely already in your community. Be vigilant. Follow recommendations.

I also would like to recognize the importance of good mental and physical health in boosting your immune systems. Get good sleep. Eat healthy — fruits and vegetables. Get exercise. Continue having social connections with friends and family through social media, video chats and phone calls. These things build resilience and will help us all get through this.