In an op-ed published in the Boston Globe on March 19th, Pharos Managing Director Shan Soe-Lin and President Robert Hecht explain why the prevailing guidance, in the midst of the current COVID-19 crisis, against wearing masks is wrong. They urge everyone to cover their face outside the home, in addition to washing hands frequently and practicing social distancing.
Shan and Rob argue that the “don’t touch your face” instruction is impossible for most people to follow as the urge to touch is hard-wired in utero. Studies show that humans touch their noses, eyes and mouths on average every 2.5 minutes. COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses cause infection through the mucous membranes on the face. By denying access to the nose, eyes and mouth, coronavirus and other respiratory infections can be prevented. Washable, reusable face masks are a simple way for people to protect themselves from their most direct threat: their own hands.
The op-ed notes that medical masks, including surgical and N95 masks, which are in desperately short supply, should be strictly reserved for health professionals at greatest risk for infection.
Widespread adoption of non-medical masks requires major behavior change and the elimination of stigma against wearing masks, but these challenges can and must be overcome. Masks are an important and badly under-utilized public health tool to protect the public against COVID-19.
Photo Credit: The Boston Globe