Two students socially distancing while wearing a face mask

While wearing a mask takes some getting used to for custodians and facility cleaning managers, doing so not only prevents exposure to COVID-19 from others, but also the chances of asymptomatically spreading to potentially high-risk people. A recent video released by the University of Washington took a deeper dive into not only the benefits of mask wearing, but the camaraderie that can ensue when encouraging others to do the same.

Jen Balkus, assistant professor for the University of Washington Department of Epidemiology, says that while a mask isn’t the end-all-be-all to diffusing the spread of the virus, it’s an integral part of a multi-faceted approach that involves hand hygiene and social distancing. The key function of the mask, Balkus says, is the prevention of droplets from the mouth and nose transmitting to other people.

“If I’m infected by the COVID-19 virus and I’m not aware, if I wear a mask and cough, sneeze or even talk loudly, that mask is preventing those droplets that I might be expressing from landing on someone else and potentially affecting them,” she says. “On the flip-side that mask is going to serve as a partial barrier to any droplets that are headed my direction.”

Balkus adds that wearing the mask correctly means not only covering the mouth, but the nose as well. The most critical situations for wearing masks are business establishments and scenarios — including outside — where six feet of social distancing can’t be attained.

“In instances where there is a high level of mask wearing, we are seeing fewer infections compared to when masks are not being worn,” says Balkus.  

The level of commitment to mask wearing levels from state to state and even county to county, but Balkus says the key to widespread facemask use starts on a micro level. One person alone deciding to wear a mask won’t change the pace of the pandemic, but everyone views it as a simple opportunity to contribute those individual mindsets will accumulate and gain momentum.

“When I see someone wearing a mask, I see that as ‘you are investing in our community, the safety of our community and you’re standing up for our community.’”

UW isn’t the only university actively promoting the value of facemasks. A group of innovators at Purdue University recently released a technique that extends the shelf life of N95 masks for frontline workers.