With mandate possible, here’s what to know about masks

Published 8:33 am Monday, July 13, 2020

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By Mark Zdechlik, Minnesota Public Radio News

Five months into the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s still opposition to wearing face masks to prevent the spread of the virus.

“I’m not going to wear one and if a business requires me to wear one, I won’t go in it,” Keith Potter said.

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Potter lives south of Hinckley and doesn’t own a single mask.

“I believe it’s all politically driven, myself,” he said. “It’s a virus. We go through the flu virus every year. We don’t wear masks. People get sick. That’s my take on it. I know it’s my opinion and we all can have our own opinion.”

But unlike the flu, there is no vaccine for COVID-19, and it’s killed more than 130,000 Americans since March.

Stillwater resident Bob Molenda is aware of those facts. He is quick to pull on a mask as someone approaches.

“I really think we need national leadership on this issue,” Molenda said. “We have 50 states and we probably have 30 different programs. I think eventually we’ll probably have to come to some sort of a law or some sort of a mandate because people are just, they have their own opinions about it.”

Some retailers and medical groups have been urging Gov. Tim Walz to mandate mask-wearing in public situations where social distancing isn’t possible, and a decision from the governor is expected this week.

Health experts say masks reduce coronavirus transmission from people who are unknowingly carrying the potentially deadly disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended people over two years old to wear masks in public to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Carol Njogu-Lusiba, who was also strolling in downtown Stillwater, said she wears a mask indoors and wishes more people would do the same.

“Let’s say in a grocery store and someone is standing too close to you. You know, you just want to kind of remind them or at least remove yourself just to make sure that you’re protected,” she said. “This thing is real. It spreads very easily. People should be practicing social distancing and wearing masks.”

But Njogu-Lusiba worries mandating face masks would backfire. She thinks some people would go out of their way not to wear masks to protest any requirement.

For those willing to comply with face mask recommendations or mandates, Dr. Michael Bess says the type of mask and how it’s used matters.

Bess is vice president of health care strategies for UnitedHealthcare, and he has some mask recommendations:

  • Leave the N95 medical-grade masks to people who need them the most, such as health care workers and first responders.
  • Disposable masks generally aren’t effective.
  • Make or buy reusable, multi-layered cloth masks.
  • Machine-wash them after every use.
  • Your mask needs to cover your mouth down to below your chin and up and over to the bridge of your nose.

“You definitely want a mask that’s comfortable because you don’t want to touch your face,” he said. “That kind of impedes the whole purpose of having a mask and when you do take the mask off you should, from the ear loops, pull it off and try to avoid touching where your nose and mouth was covered.”

Still, there is some misinformation circulating on social media about how much masks cut your risk.

The claim is if two people wear masks the chance of an infected person transmitting the virus is less than 2 percent, while without masks the chance is 70 percent. Kaiser Health Newsrecently debunked that, noting there’s no data to back up the claim.

Mankato Physician Keith Stelter is the president of the Minnesota Medical Association, which has called on Walz to require masks.

“It’s one of the only tools that we have in our arsenal right now to prevent the spread of COVID,” Stelter said. “Short of shutting down the state again, this is what we feel we have to do.”