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News >  Health

Dr. Zorba Paster: Masks work – let’s make wearing them the norm

UPDATED: Wed., Sept. 16, 2020

By Dr. Zorba Paster For The Spokesman-Review

So let me paint a picture. You’re thinking of going to your favorite barber or beauty salon, and you’re worried about COVID-19.

You’re right to be worried, but you’re fretting over how your hair looks. The cut has grown out, the color is fading to gray. It’s just not the same “you” that you know is you. So what to do?

Let’s visit a beauty salon in Missouri. The owner and stylists decided they would wear masks, and all their clients would wear masks. They’d keep the place super clean, wipe it down after every patron.

They would keep social distancing between clients as best they could. They couldn’t maintain social distance between themselves and the clients – that’s just not possible during a haircut. But they planned to wash their hands, use hand sanitizer and do the best they could, cognizant of the pandemic but trying to keep their jobs and make their clients happy.

Got the picture? Good.

Now, in the early summer, when the flowers were blooming, one of the stylists thought her allergies were blooming, too. They always did at that time of year. After a day or two, she felt a bit more ill, nothing dramatic but significant enough to get tested for COVID-19.

Guess what? It was positive. So all the stylists got tested. One other stylist turned out to be positive; she was the first stylist’s good friend, and they’d had lunch together.

When the two stylists discovered they had COVID-19, they both self-isolated at home. The salon owner talked to local health officials, who suggested contacting all 139 clients the stylists had seen while they were infectious – clients who’d had their hair cut, facial hair trimmed, hair permed and colored, etc.

The stylists were within inches of each of these client’s face – eyes, nose and mouth – for 15 to 45 minutes. The stylists never took off their own masks, but if you need your beard or mustache trimmed, you can’t do that through a mask. So during that time, the clients were unmasked.

All of the 139 people exposed to the stylists were told to quarantine for 14 days after their salon appointment. All were told to contact everyone they knew they’d been in contact with after the appointment.

In addition, all were offered free coronavirus testing, and 67 took that offer and got tested. Now a pop quiz: How many patrons turned out to have COVID-19? Ready, set, go!

The answer: None. Not one. Nada. Not a single patron tested had COVID-19. Shocking, isn’t it?

It’s not that the stylists or clients all wore N95 masks, the kind health care professionals use. In fact, very few did. Some wore surgical masks. Others wore bandana-type masks. Homemade masks were really common. But all of them – and I mean all – were protected by their masks.

There is a take-home message here: Masks work.

Now, I’ll grant you that’s only one case study, but it’s a real-life study with real-life consequences. It was real life where social distancing wasn’t possible, but masks were.

My spin: Dear readers, patients, friends and colleagues – whether you’re left or right, red, blue, purple or magenta; no matter what your belief system is, atheist or agnostic, live in a big city or in the boonies – if you want to get our economy up and running and the kids back in school, be a good citizen. Wear a mask.

Back in the 1800s, people spit all over the place. When we learned that tuberculosis was spread in spit, we put spittoons all around and told people to spit in the spittoons. Over time, they did it.

Then we decided you shouldn’t spit in public. Instead, you should use a tissue or handkerchief and spit into that if you needed to spit. You rarely see spitting on the ground any more except at baseball and soccer games, where spitting is acceptable.

We need to do this with masks. We should make not wearing masks an unacceptable way to be in public. If we do that, we’ll flatten the curve until we’re all vaccinated from this viral terrorist.

Just like washing your hands after you poop can be a pain in the butt, wearing a mask can be uncomfortable. But just like you don’t want your neighbor or friend to be infected with your fecal material, you don’t want them to die because you have COVID-19 and don’t know it.

Just like we don’t light up whenever we want to, wherever we are, just like we decided that we need a license to drive, we should all be wearing a mask – it is right, neighborly, patriotic, civic, a good citizen thing to do. Period. Stay safe. And stay well.

Dr. Zorba Paster is a family physician and host of the public radio program “Zorba Paster on Your Health.” He can be reached at askzorba@doctorzorba.com.

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