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Is a cloth mask the safest option for students and staff?

Posted at 5:50 AM, Jul 30, 2020

BALTIMORE, md. — Most students are starting school this fall virtually but some will head back to the classroom. The hope is by the end of the school year, all students will be physically be back in school.

State Superintendent, Dr. Karen Salmon, said when students do go back all students and staff must wear cloth face coverings. "particularly when physical distancing is not possible." So that could mean students may be able to take their masks off during the school day, while they're at there desk as long as they can practice social distancing.

This is something Molly Hyde, an Infection Control Practitioner from GBMC, doesn't exactly agree with since viruses can spread more easily indoors.

She said, "you’re far less likely to spread any sort of respiratory illness when you’re outdoors because of the volume of air outdoors can delete the virus and sunlight can kill it. The same can not be said indoors and so you’re much more likely to spread indoors which is why it makes it so challenging to take masks off indoors because you really have to be in a controlled environment where you're far away from other people."

Her solution is to allow the kids to take mask breaks throughout the day. A time where they can go outside, take their masks off and get some fresh air. All while staying six feet a part.

Hyde also recommends you practice with your child now to prepare them. Find a mask that fits their face properly (covering their mouth and nose), is comfortable for them and possibly a fun design so they get excited about wearing it.

"When you’re home have them put the mask on show them how it works and then also in an age appropriate way, why they have to wear it. So it’s not just put this is on, they’re gonna be less likely to comply and more like to fiddle with it if we don’t tell them why. I think it’s important to explain why they have to do something, when you tell them to do something especially when it’s totally new to them, never been done before," said Hyde.

Dr. Salmon also stated students and staff must wear cloth face covering. "The benefit of the cloth mask is the virus isn’t going to live for an extended period of time on cloth. So, the more porous the material is the more it can soak up liquid, the less likely the virus is able to live on that surface. Now, I’m not suggesting the virus can’t live at all on a cloth mask. You still want to be careful and disinfect," said Hyde.

She recommends you keep a few cloth masks in rotation. Wear it, wash it and re-use it. She added the cloth mask has been scientifically proven to stop the spread of the coronavirus, the same can't be said for other face coverings like face shields alone.

"Masks help stop the spread of Covid. They are excellent source control and they help stop the spread of Covid. We know that. We have studies that show that somebody who’s wearing a cloth mask who is sick did not spread Covid to other people with face shield it’s more of the unknown. We don’t have a lot of research on wearing a face shield by itself without a mask underneath. We simply don’t know," said Hyde. She added, "at this point we don’t want to switch from a tried and true method to a method we don’t know the answer to."

So even though the face shield may be more breathable, it's not giving you the same protection.

Hyde asks you for your patience during this uncertain time. Scientists and doctors are working adamantly to stay on top of this virus but just like Ebola, they're learning about it as it's happening. She stressed, "I think it’s important for people to understand that’s how science works. It is make your best guest, make a recommendation based on that and then continue to do more research and you change your recommendation when you find out new information."