Unmasking the future of facial coverings

Ellie White, News Editor

It is a sobering experience for sophomore Tacy Guest to hear about the lack of personal protection equipment provided to doctors. Guest, whose mother works as a radiologist, believes wearing a mask helps protect everyone, including healthcare workers.

“We all saw the numbers in Italy … before [COVID-19] got really bad in the United States, and while we weren’t able to stop [COVID-19] from moving to the United States, we can stop it from getting worse,” said Guest in a phone interview. “While the masks aren’t necessarily for our own protection while we are wearing them, it’s for the protection of those around us.”

According to the Village of Northbrook website, Village President Sandra Frum issued a supplemental order that requires facial coverings for anyone over the age of two who is either a customer or a worker in a public business. Additionally, residents are required to wear a mask while riding on public transportation and engaging in essential activities, such as shopping for necessary items or visiting a healthcare professional. 

Frum said in an email exchange that her executive order on masks was extended to the next Village Board meeting, which was scheduled for May 26.

The state of Illinois requires anyone who is over the age of two and either is unable to maintain 6 feet of social distance or is in a public area to wear a mask. 

 In an email exchange, Alex Evans, medical writer and founder of PharmCompliance, an informational company that gives input on how to run a pharmacy on their website, said he believes residents should wear masks the majority of the time they are in public.

“In parks, it is best to only go … when it is relatively empty and you can spread out from other people, in which case a mask might not be necessary,” said Evans. “If you see a lot of cars, keep driving to the next park.

“While we still don’t know for sure how masks affect transmission, it is thought that masks can at least prevent the person wearing it from spreading [COVID-19] to other people.”

Wearing personal protection equipment, such as surgical masks or N95 respirators, significantly reduces the number of droplets released when someone coughs or sneezes, Evans said.

“An N95 respirator is named that because it prevents at least 95 [percent] of particulates below a certain size from entering the respirator,” said Evans. “Those, when used properly, are very effective in preventing transmission of a wide variety of respiratory infections.”

While wearing a disposable surgical mask is more effective at preventing the spread of COVID-19 than a cloth mask, wearing a cloth one is still preferable to nothing, Evans said.

During the month of April, the Village of Northbrook held two mask distributions and gave out both cloth masks and hand sanitizer to residents. As of May 8, the Village Board does not have any future mask distributions planned. The Village of Northbrook website lists several local businesses that are currently selling masks to residents.

Frum said in a phone interview that after both the stay-at-home order and the government regulations are lifted, residents will have to make the decision on whether or not to continue to wear a mask themselves.

“I plan on continuing to wear masks for a while, … [until] I feel comfortable that [the COVID-19 pandemic] is under control,” Frum said.

According to Evans, he hopes more residents will wear masks in public even after the end of the COVID-19 pandemic.

My wife is from Japan, and they are among several countries where wearing masks [is] a cultural norm,” said Evans. “Even for colds and the flu, I hope we will do the same to reduce the risk of spreading it to other people.”

Until there is a vaccine or herd immunity, which occurs when a large percentage of the population has immunity to a disease, the risk of COVID-19 is still present, Evans said.

According to Guest, it is important to realize the choice of whether or not to wear a mask in public affects those around us.

“It’s obviously a very hard situation we are all in, but it’s important to realize … every choice we are making, it’s not a choice for ourselves, it’s a choice for those around us,” said Guest. “It’s not like a ‘my body, I get to decide what I’m doing with it.’ It’s a ‘my choice affects everyone I’m in contact with.’

“We are all responsible for each other’s safety.”