TAMPA, Fla. — As the number of positive COVID-19 cases surges in Florida and across the country, there are still many people on the fence about the benefits of wearing a mask or face-covering in public.
Doctors want people to know in straightforward terms that wearing a mask is one of the most selfless acts you can do to protect yourself and others in public.
"By me wearing the mask, I am preventing droplets from spreading to you and or vice versa," Dr. Doug Ross, the Chief Medical Officer for AdventHealth, said. "Those people wearing the masks are preventing the spread, and therefore you should see a decrease in anyone contracting the disease and deaths obviously too."
The list of county and city governments with mandatory mask orders continues to grow.
Florida recorded the first COVID-19 cases in early March. Since then, our numbers have reached a grim milestone. In July, we passed 200,000 cases with thousands dead. Scientists and studies continue to update the public on best practices.
In early June, the National Institute of Standards and Technology used slow-motion technology to show how face coverings slow the spread of the disease.
The University of California San Francisco also posting information about the benefits of masks.
Confusion and mixed messages when the virus first started spreading in early March continue to plague health officials today.
For example, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, told 60Minutes in March, "there's no reason to be walking around with a mask."
That clip is now being taken out of context and used on social media to spread old information.
In early April, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidelines to recommend Americans wear masks in public. During the initial response to the novel, coronavirus healthcare providers were concerned about the lack of covers for frontline workers in hospitals. Until supplies were replenished, politicians across the country urged people not to buy N-95 masks.
"So, I think we got off to a bad start in this whole COVID thing," Dr. Ross said. "I would say we were told, and rightly so, that at the time we didn't really understand the importance of masking among other things, we were also trying to conserve masks, right, we were really seeing the tragedies going on in our health system didn't have enough masks. I can see where people feel confused because they've heard mixed messages about wearing masks. But, I would say to you, that really as I said before, the countries that have been really able to blunt that curve and decrease the spread of the disease; are countries that have adopted masks very early on."
NO SHIRT, NO SHOES, NO MASK, NO SERVICE
What are your options if you refuse to wear a mask? If you have a health condition that precludes you from wearing a mask, a business can't legally ask what your health condition is. In that case, local attorney Patrick Leduc says the company has to take steps to accommodate you reasonably.
"It puts a business owner in a really bad way in a really difficult situation, because he wants the business. But, he also needs to manage what he considers the risk," Leduc said. "That manager can still say, 'well, I am going accommodate your disability, but that doesn't necessarily mean I have to let you come inside. I can present accommodation in a different way.'"
Curbside pick-up or delivery or personal shoppers are ways Leduc says a business can accommodate someone with a medical condition and continue to bar entry to the store.
And Leduc says an owner can say "no shoes, no shirt, no mask, no more service."
"And, they do not have a legal leg to stand on?" ABC Action News reporter Michael Paluska asked.
"They do not have a legal; technically, if you are asking me as a lawyer, they don't have a legal leg to stand on," Leduc said. "And, feel free not to have to call me about it and say I want to sue. Cause if you do, I am not going to take your case."
Most major carriers are making masks mandatory. According to a spokesperson with Tampa International Airport, all airlines that fly in and out of TPA are putting strict mask rules in place. That includes Alaska Airlines, American, Delta, Jetblue, Southwest and United. In late June, Allegiant, the primary carrier flying out of St. Pete Clearwater International Airport, said they are "requiring customers to wear masks during all phases of travel."
BEST OVERALL MASK? ANY MASK THAT COVERS YOUR FACE
Dr. Ross said a typical cloth face-covering could cut transmission of COVID-19 by more than 70%.
"The droplets are big," Dr. Ross said. "The virus particles are small. So, the droplet is a lot larger than the micron. A droplet carries the virus but can't get through the mask. These regular masks or even cloth masked or homemade masks are almost as effective as the N-95."
The Mayo Clinic has a few pointers for putting on and taking off a cloth mask:
Place your mask over your mouth and nose, tie it behind your head or use ear loops, and make sure it's snug, don't touch your mask while wearing it. If you accidentally touch your mask, wash or sanitize your hands. Remove the mask by untying it or lifting off the ear loops without touching the front of the mask or your face. Wash your hands immediately after removing your mask. Regularly wash your mask with soap and water in the washing machine. It's fine to launder it with other clothes.
Don't put masks on anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious or otherwise unable to remove the mask without help. Don't put masks on children under two years of age. Don't use face masks as a substitute for social distancing.
And if all of the research and studies surrounding COVID-19 doesn't convince you to wear a mask. Ross said it is one of the most selfless things you can do to keep others safe and "save a lot of people's lives."