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Medical experts: Wearing a mask is not about you

Choosing whether to wear a mask these days has turned into a political battlefield. But what are the actual health benefits or potential risks? Local medical experts are sharing their advice.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — To wear or not to wear: That is the question when it comes to wearing a mask these days.

Deciding whether to don one while going out has become more of a political issue than a health issue. But medical experts say it shouldn't be.

10TV sought advice from two local experts. One was Dr. Iahn Gonsenhauser, chief quality and patient safety officer for The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

"There’s a lot of talk about what masks mean and what they represent," Dr. Gosenhauser said. "They mean and represent differing things to different people. To us in healthcare and science, masks represent virus control, virus exposure control, and that is, by far, the most important thing that we can all be doing for each other right now."

10TV also reached out to Dr. Joseph Gastaldo, system medical director of infectious diseases for OhioHealth.

"I think people need to understand the science behind the mask and also to realize that COVID-19 is real, it’s here, it’s not going away," Dr. Gastaldo said.

That means the coronavirus is still a threat, even as states start to loosen restrictions. The doctors say that's why understanding why it's important to wear a mask is more crucial than ever.

"Either consciously or subconsciously, people may feel that COVID-19 is kind of going away or not even here anymore," Dr. Gastaldo said. "That is not the case at all. And if people feel that is the case either consciously or subconsciously, they are more likely to relax on all of the things that we’ve been talking about – masks, social distancing, washing your hands."

And there still seems to be confusion on whether wearing a mask is even advised. When the virus was first starting to spread, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did not recommend wearing masks. The doctors say there were two reasons for that — one, to protect the supply for healthcare workers and, two, because experts had not fully realized how contagious coronavirus could be, even among asymptomatic carriers.

"A lot of people still don’t realize that wearing a mask does not add any protection to the wearer," Dr. Gastaldo said. "People think that if you wear the mask, you’re actually protecting yourself from catching the virus, and that’s not what wearing a mask is all about. "

In fact, wearing a mask is all about protecting others, not the wearer. A person may not realize he or she is an asymptomatic carrier of the virus and could be spreading the virus through coughing, sneezing or talking loudly without even realizing it.

"I wear a mask to protect you from me," Dr. Gonsenhauser said. "I’m not wearing a mask to protect myself. I’m wearing a mask to protect others from my potential exposure. That protects me also, in turn, because it means, if I was a potential carrier, I’m going to expose fewer people. That means there’s (less) virus floating around in the community, and things are less likely to come back to me or my family or somebody that I know and love."

There are exceptions to wearing the mask. Experts say those with respiratory issues and very young children should not wear them. And while there have been published concerns about prolonged mask-wearing causing carbon dioxide poisoning, that is a false concern. Doctors do advise against wearing a damp mask for a long period of time, but they also point out that healthcare workers wear them safely for hours on end.

"Putting a mask on is such an insignificant compromise or such an insignificant sacrifice that we can make for the purpose of community safety," Dr. Gonsenhauser said. "It’s such a small thing that we can do for one another that, why not do it. If you’re just choosing not to, you’re just not choosing to be on the side of the community that wants to control this. You know, I don’t know anybody out there that wishes somebody else becomes ill or sick or potentially risk of death. We should all be doing this for each other because it’s just the right thing to do."

Here are some links to several trusted sources offering advice on wearing masks:

Cleveland Clinic: https://health.clevelandclinic.org/heres-how-wearing-a-cloth-mask-helps-fight-the-spread-of-coronavirus/

Mayo Clinic: https://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/covid-19-how-much-protection-do-face-masks-offer/

CDC: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/diy-cloth-face-coverings.html

Ohio Dept. of Health: https://coronavirus.ohio.gov/wps/portal/gov/covid-19/resources/general-resources/cloth-masks-or-face-coverings-in-the-workplace