NEW YORK - New York state health officials are catching up to other health authorities in the region, country, and the world and now support the wearing of masks in public to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.
The specific terminology used is actually "cloth face coverings" because officials stress that medical-grade N95 respirators and surgical masks, which are scarce, should be reserved for health-care workers and first responders.
In guidance issued on Wednesday, the state's Health Department said it supports "members of the public" wearing face coverings when they leave the house based on recent studies that confirm that a "significant portion" of people who are infected with the coronavirus and can spread it to others do not show any symptoms.
"This means that the virus can spread between people in close proximity—for example, speaking, coughing, or sneezing—even if those people are not exhibiting symptoms at the time," the Health Department said. "Considering this new evidence, NYSDOH supports members of the public who choose to wear cloth face coverings in public settings, where social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies), especially in areas of significant community transmission."
But the Health Department doesn't want anyone to think that wearing a mask or other face covering is a replacement for staying away from others, washing your hands, and staying home whenever possible.
"While cloth face coverings may not prevent the wearer from becoming infected, they might help slow spread from people who have the virus and are unaware," DOH said.
A week ago, New York City health officials made similar recommendations about covering your face and mouth when going outdoors to reduce the risk of spreading the virus. That was in line with revised guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's leading expert on infectious diseases, has said he supports Americans wearing something.
"Any physical barrier, you don’t have to occupy a mask, something like a scarf, can be helpful," Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told Good Day New York on April 1. "But hopefully there will be enough masks sometime so we can address the question of the advantage that you might have having more people wear masks in the community."
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Cloth Face Coverings Guidance from the New York State Health Department
Cloth face coverings fashioned from household items or made at home from common materials at low-cost, can be used as an additional, voluntary public health measure, beyond the recommended social distancing.
If you choose to wear cloth face coverings in public settings, where social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies), especially in areas of significant community transmission, you should:
Make sure that they fit snugly and cover their nose and mouth.
Be changed frequently and laundered when they are soiled or wet.
Not become complacent with other protective measures.
- Do not touch the cloth covering or face.
- Continue to be vigilant with thorough and frequent hand washing with soap and water, or alcohol-based hand sanitizer of 60%+ alcohol.
- Practice respiratory etiquette and cover your coughs or sneezes.
- Practice social distancing – even when wearing masks.
- Stay home and help flatten the curve!
While cloth face coverings may not prevent the wearer from becoming infected, they might help slow spread from people who have the virus and are unaware.