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Comment: Wear a mask to protect yourself and others. You will not be harmed.

A commentary by an infectious diseases and internal medicine consultant who is a clinical assistant professor of medicine at the University of British Columbia. Dr.
People wear face masks as they walk through a shopping mall in Montreal, Saturday, July 18, 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. The wearing of masks or protective face coverings is mandatory in Quebec as of today. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

A commentary by an infectious diseases and internal medicine consultant who is a clinical assistant professor of medicine at the University of British Columbia.

Dr. Bonnie Henry has been clear in her advice on how we can protect ourselves and others from COVID-19.

Keeping at least two metres distant from others, washing our hands, staying home if sick, keeping our social circle small, and, when unable to physically distance ourselves from others, wearing a mask.

The most significant way of acquiring COVID-19 is by inhaling it.

Yes, droplets can get in your eyes, hence why health-care workers also wear face shields or glasses during aerosol-producing procedures, but in everyday use a mask certainly decreases your risk of contracting or spreading the airborne virus.

To respond to the point made in the recent letter to the editor by a local chiropractor, that masks are somehow harmful to the person wearing them, I would like to point out that health-care workers who perform highly technical and challenging tasks wear masks for hours, some for 12-hour shifts.

Nurses and surgeons who are involved in long surgeries also wear masks for hours on end. The information in the letter was misleading and outright wrong. There is no scientific evidence that wearing a mask causes harm.

Data suggest that 40 per cent of transmission of COVID-19 occurs when people are pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic (when the person infected feels fine).

Masks work as a barrier and a filter for air and droplets coming into and out of your nose and mouth. Observational and case control studies have suggested that wearing a mask protects both the wearer and others around them.

Nurses and physicians who care for patients infected with COVID-19 always wear masks. Why? Because it prevents them from getting infected.

This is clearly proven infection-control practice throughout the world. Hence wearing a mask in the community makes sense if you cannot maintain a two-metre separation from others.

In this situation you are therefore wearing the mask to protect yourself and others. We all need to think of our community as a whole, not just about ourselves and how we may feel while wearing a mask.

Wearing seat belts, not smoking in public places, stopping at stop signs, not drinking and driving, and being vaccinated are all common things we do to protect ourselves and each other. Just add wearing a mask on to that list.

Would you want your surgeon to forgo a mask for your surgery because they “feel fine” and “don’t like how a mask feels”? Certainly not.

We are a community, not just a group of individuals. Unfortunately we don’t need to look too far to see what happens when we care more about our individual rights instead of those of our neighbours and community as a whole.

I am often asked if and when we will have a second wave of COVID.

My response is if we all fully follow the guidelines put forth by our public health officer then we should not be destined to see a large second wave.

If you think “I feel fine, I don’t need a mask,” wearing a mask is the best way to keep it that way.

If you think, “I’m not worried about getting the virus,” just think about the vulnerable members of our community you don’t want to risk giving it to.

If you think masks are uncomfortable, just think about the health-care workers who put in long and demanding hours, all while wearing a mask.

I must also add we should all be discerning about where we get our medical advice. The B.C. Centre for Disease Control and our public health officer are both excellent sources for scientific, evidence-based information.

Be wary of advice from Facebook, letters to the editor or websites that are not peer-reviewed.

This virus is going to be with us for years.

An effective vaccine may not be available and administered to all British Columbians for at least another year or more.

We know what we need to do to resolve this epidemic. We need to get into this new routine. That is, stay home if you are sick, keep two metres apart, wash your hands often and please wear a mask if unable to effectively and consistently distance yourself.

I’m confident we can and will overcome this epidemic together.