As more is known about how COVID-19 moves from person to person, more is being done to try to keep people safe.
Because scientists are learning that the virus can be transmitted by someone who doesn’t have symptoms, everyone should wear a cloth covering over their nose and mouth when they have to be outside their own home.
“We’re encouraging all Monroe County residents to start wearing a cloth face covering when they are out,” County Executive Adam Bello said in an online news conference April 6, before demonstrating in basically no time at all how to fold a piece of cloth into a mask and secure it with two elastic bands or hair ties.
Monroe County is following the advice of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which in the past few days has recommended universal masking.
As of 4 p.m. April 6, Monroe County had recorded 543 confirmed cases and 26 deaths related to COVID-19. Of the 83 people hospitalized, 30 were in intensive care. Nearly 500 people were in mandatory quarantine and 232 were in isolation. The county reported that 211 people had recovered from isolation.
Bello said the mask doesn’t replace social distancing, and at one point said that residents may be getting lax in that regard and left open the possibility of the county stepping in.
But when social distancing is difficult, such as the grocery store, Bello said a mask should be worn.
Bello showed how to make a mask. He took a square cloth that measured about 22 inches by 22 inches and folded it three times. He then flipped and rotated the now narrow, rectangular cloth so the top flap faced him. He put an elastic band about one-third of the way in on each side, folded one end into the other and then snugged the elastics and used them to put the mask on over his ears. Watch him at youtube.com/watch?v=XhqKdyuRI8c
“If I can put something like this together myself, anyone can put this together,” he said.
Bello acknowledged that not everyone may have fabric around the house. The county, in concert with the United Way of Greater Rochester, announced Mask Makers, an initiative to get at least 50,000 cloth masks that will be distributed to human service agencies.
Jaime Saunders, president and chief executive officer of the United Way of Greater Rochester, said sewing circles are popping up through Facebook. She said people who are creating cloth masks can bring them to any Goodwill location, and the masks will be allocated to the agencies. She said United Way also would like to have masks for people who come to emergency food distribution sites.
Bello said that surgical and N95 masks should be reserved for health care providers and first responders. “The rest of us are OK using something we make at home.”
He said the purpose of cloth masks is to prevent an individual from unknowingly spreading the virus and potentially infecting others. Folding the fabric several times creates layers that could block transmission of droplets that could be in a cough, a sneeze or in regular breaths. It’s akin to coughing or sneezing into your arm when you have a cold.
But masking the nose and mouth should not provide a false sense of security. “This is not an invitation to start to engage in risky behaviors or to lessen our social distancing,” Bello said.
As for staying home and staying apart when outside, Bello said he has noticed people are starting to lose their edge. Data from a cellphone tracking company – which Bello said the county does not use but was reported online – showed Monroe County residents beginning to range farther afield. He also said people need to limit their trips to grocery stores, pharmacies and home centers. He said that ideally, only one family member should make the trip, but he realized that may not always be possible.
He said the county at this point is asking people to maintain social distancing, but he said there is a plan to move from recommendations to enforcement if people begin to congregate. He mentioned the possibility of closing parks and having an order to keep people in their homes, but he said he didn’t want to take such measures.
Asked if such steps could be considered punitive and scare people more than reassure them, Bello said they were measures to keep people safe.
“This isn’t meant to scare people. It’s meant to give them facts and information,” he said. “The information is that we have to engage in social distancing, keeping a safe distance from our friends and neighbors and we need to stay at home as much as possible. I hope this a reassuring measure that there is a way to slow the spread of the virus.”