Virus expert explains why masks, even homemade, are so important to wear

Posted at 11:09 AM, Apr 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-07 11:09:51-04

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- In Charlotte Rudolph's Walton Park neighborhood, people are working together, making more than 1,000 masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Over the past few weeks, the Walton Park group has donated hundreds of masks to hospitals, social service employees, nursing homes, and police departments.

"The neighborhood is tremendous, it's an all hands on deck effort," Rudolph said. "Those who can cut, are cutting. Those who can sew, there's only a few of us, but it's a great way to keep yourself busy."

Now that the Centers for Disease Control and local health experts recommend people wear masks in public, there are requests for more masks.

"It was just a huge response," Rudolph said. "Everyone needs one right now."

Wearing a mask in public can help reduce the spread of COVID-19 since a large number of people could be carrying the virus, but unaware that they're infected.

"At least 25% of infections are asymptomatic," Dr. Richard Wenzel, an infectious disease specialist with VCU Medical Center, said. "When I say that, I mean people with no symptoms or they're presymptomatic, but still infected."

Wenzel said large droplets expelled from a person's cough or sneeze, can travel beyond six feet, the recommended social distance by health experts. Smaller droplets, known as aerosols, can linger in the air for a long period of time.

"The aerosols can actually hang around in the air for hours and they're microscopic hot air balloons encasing the virus, so if a person were to cough and have aerosols in a room and leave and someone comes in an hour later and breathes in these microscopic air balloons and can become infected."

While Wezel said an N95 mask is the most effective for preventing the spread of COVID-19 for first responders and medical personnel, he said a homemade or commercial mask can be beneficial for the general public.

There are online tutorials available for people who'd like to make their own masks.

"A beginner sewer can do it," Rudolph said. "If you have a sewing machine or can get your hands on one, you can do this as your first sewing project."

Depend on CBS 6 News and for the most complete coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID-19 Precautions

Most patients with COVID-19 have mild to moderate symptoms. However, in a small proportion of patients, COVID-19 can lead to more severe illness, including death, particularly among those who are older or those who have chronic medical conditions.

COVID-19 spreads primarily through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

Symptoms include fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. Symptoms appear within 14 days of being exposed to an infectious person.

Virginia health officials urged the following precautions:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer only if soap and water are not available.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.Stay home when you are sick.
  • Avoid contact with sick people.Avoid non-essential travel.