MEDFORD, Ore. — Public health officials in Jackson County say that one more positive case of the COVID-19 coronavirus has been found in the county as of Wednesday morning, bringing the total to 22. Along with the new case, the local health agency issued some guidance for people who still occasionally have to go out in public.
Federal authorities have recently been debating whether to recommend that people wear masks while in public. Though the original recommendations from the CDC and WHO advised against wearing masks unless you are already infected, that appears to be changing.
"The assumption was that people didn’t spread the disease without symptoms, and that droplet spread occurred with coughing and sneezing," Jackson County Public Health said. "If sick people wore masks, the rest of us didn’t need to. Also, with a shortage of masks for healthcare workers, 'wasting' that resource wasn’t a good idea."
Now Jackson County's health officer Dr. Jim Shames says that it would be a good idea for families to get one or two cloth facemasks for use when going out in public. They can be washed after use, allowing them to be used repeatedly.
"Jackson County Public Health is NOT recommending that you purchase manufactured surgical masks, please save them for the healthcare workers that rely on them for protection," the agency said. "According to Dr. Jim Shames, 'when we both wear a face mask, I protect you and you protect me.'"
Regardless, the health agency says that social distancing, frequent hand washing, and avoiding others if you are sick remain the best ways to stop the spread of COVID-19 — no one should assume that wearing a mask is a proper substitute.
Over the past week, Jackson County Public Health has said that the area is now in the phase of "rapid community spread" of coronavirus.
In a statement on Tuesday, officials said that these cases did not indicate any hot spots in the county — rather they are equally distributed throughout, demonstrating "spread that is widespread."
“It is best that everyone be cautious and not assume that one location is safer than another,” said Jackson Baures, Jackson County Public Health Division Manager. “COVID-19 is spreading in our community, and this is why practicing social distancing, that includes staying home and minimizing outings, is so critical right now.”
In some cases, the County has released demographic information about the diagnosed individuals. While cases have skewed toward people age 50 or above, there have been several cases of people in their 30s.
Officials in southern Oregon have preferred to use back-tracking investigations to quietly contact any people who have been in close quarters with the individual, followed by quarantine and monitoring for symptoms.
With the latest test results in Oregon and across the United States, there is more evidence of active community spread of COVID-19, and Jackson County said that this is something they have expected to see in Oregon and in Jackson County.
Governor Kate Brown issued executive orders that take additional steps to ensure that Oregonians stay home in order to slow the spread of COVID-19 on March 23.
Under the new executive orders are directives for individuals to maintain social distancing. These directives state during the ongoing state of emergency that, to the maximum extent possible, individuals are to stay home or at their place of residence.
“We have to come together as a community, as one team, and actively practice social distancing and staying home, this is how we are going to protect our community, our healthcare system and healthcare workers,” said Dr. Jim Shames, Jackson County Health Officer. “This whole community approach is the only way we are going to get through this, and we will get through this.”
According to Jackson County Public Health, there are a number of reasons to reconsider wearing a cloth mask:
- We now know that some people are contagious before they ever get symptoms and some never feel sick. They might spread the disease before they would ever consider masking up.
- Droplets do indeed transmit the disease, but they can be generated from talking as well as coughing. Just standing next to someone talking could spread the disease if neither of you are masked.
- Wearing a mask while sick is stigmatizing for those who wear them. Universal use wouldn’t identify who was sick and who wasn’t.
- You are less likely to touch your mouth and nose while wearing a mask
- DIY masks can possibly provide protection to the public without impacting the supply of manufactured masks currently prioritized for healthcare workers. If the medical community accepts the use of these masks in the healthcare setting, then these masks will be available and ready to go.
- There is data that suggests that in countries where masking is encouraged for all citizens, the rate of disease transmission may be reduced by their actions.
Volunteers are making these masks locally using various patterns. The principle is the same regardless of design. Having a physical barrier to prevent droplets from landing on others, discouraging the wearers from touching their faces, and possibly reducing large droplets from landing on mucous membranes are the goals for wearing masks in public. And they look good.
If you choose to wear a mask, be careful when adjusting the mask and avoid reaching under it (they itch) to touch your nose or mouth because the virus can spread by unwashed hands. Also, masks do not work well if they are soiled or damaged.
There are a variety of reusable masks available online at websites like Amazon.com. Search keywords “reusable masks”
Here is one example of a simple no-sew homemade mask: https://youtu.be/lOe_8z8k01U