Healthy Tahoe: Wear a face mask to help community stay healthy |

Healthy Tahoe: Wear a face mask to help community stay healthy

Rhonda Sneeringer, MD, FAAP

As temperatures at Lake Tahoe are heating up, so are discussions about wearing a face mask in public. While science continues to reveal new information about the coronavirus, one thing is clear: wearing a face mask slows the spread of COVID-19, if enough people wear them.

From the World Health Organization to local health care systems like Barton Health, medical experts recommend that everyone wear a face mask in public to reduce community transmission. By following shelter in place directives, the Lake Tahoe region is fortunate to not have experienced a surge in COVID-19 cases, as other areas have faced tragic results of community spread with this highly contagious disease.

Wearing a face mask is one way we can uphold our commitment to keeping our friends, neighbors, and essential workers healthy. Combined with social distancing, staying at least six-feet away from others outside of your household, staying home when sick, and practicing good hand hygiene, face masks decrease the spread of coronavirus.

Properly fitted and maintained face masks are safe to wear, and they reduce the chance of people around you being exposed to your germs. Breathing your own bacteria and germs into the mask does not increase your risk of getting sick, as long as you wash your cloth mask regularly. After wearing a cloth mask out of your home, it’s important to take it off properly to avoid exposing yourself to anything on the outside of the mask.

When removing the face covering, do not touch your nose or mouth, and store the mask in a safe place before washing it. Always wash your hands or use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol after taking the mask off. Cloth masks should not be placed on young children under the age of two; those who have trouble breathing; and anyone that is unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance.

Based on evidence that people with COVID-19 can spread the disease even when they don’t have any symptoms, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention recommends that everyone wear cloth face coverings when leaving their homes. Be it a homemade cloth mask or even a bandana or ski buff, wearing a face mask helps prevent you from spreading viruses, and it is especially important to take this precaution at public indoor settings and around those with underlying medical conditions.

Face coverings block the release of droplets when someone sneezes, coughs, or talks. When infected people cough or sneeze, droplets with live virus particles are expelled out to about six feet before they fall due to gravity — hence the guidelines for maintaining this six-foot social distance from those outside of your household.

When infected people talk, smaller aerosolized droplets can remain hanging in the air for hours, especially indoors with limited ventilation. Face masks protect others from those who are infected, including those who do not have symptoms of COVID-19, including fever, coughing, and unusual body aches.

When entering a Barton Health medical facility, you are required to wear a face mask to help keep yourself and others safe. If you do not have a face mask, Barton will provide you with one to use when you arrive.

While some may view wearing a face coverings as restrictive, doing so helps lift restrictions so more businesses in our community can re-open, as long as data shows COVID-19 is being contained. And although our society is new to face coverings as common practice, public masking can become more familiar.

Encourage friends and family members to wear a face mask when leaving the house. Many area retailers have locally-made face masks for sale, or you can purchase a cloth mask online made from a unique fabric that makes wearing it more fun.

Thank you for doing your part to help keep Lake Tahoe safe and healthy by wearing a face mask in public places. This is something we all can do to limit the spread of COVID-19, and help keep community members working and our doors open.

Dr. Rhonda Sneeringer is a board-certified physician practicing at Barton Health in internal medicine and pediatrics.

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