Island resident Brett Von Blon wears a mask when required or when he’s around many people, but he’s still undecided about whether masks work.


Two Galveston County cities this week enacted rules requiring businesses to mandate masks for their customers and employees, a move that’s stoked debate about whether masks work.

But despite early confusion, health experts agree people should wear masks in places where they can’t keep at least 6 feet apart to protect others from potential infection by the coronavirus.

Galveston and Dickinson implemented rules this week mandating businesses to require masks for customers and employees. Galveston’s order became effective Tuesday, while Dickinson customers will need to mask up starting Sunday.

Masks do help prevent spread of the coronavirus, said Dr. Philip Keiser, the top health official for the Galveston County Health District.

“The reason why we’re asking the public to wear masks isn’t because the mask is going to protect them, it’s going to protect the people around me,” Keiser said.

There’s much lingering confusion on masks because there were mixed messages, Keiser said.

Just how effective masks can be are still in question for some, like Galveston resident Brett Von Blon.

“I’m just kind of wishy-washy on them,” Von Blon said.

Von Blon always wears a mask when he’s asked to or when he’s around a crowd, though he generally avoids crowds now, he said.

If he’s out in the open air, he won’t wear one, he said.

“I just don’t know how effective they are, but I don’t know that they’re not,” Von Blon said.

Galveston resident Lorraine Manuel also wears masks if shops require them and thinks they’re a good idea in close proximity, but she’d rather practice social distancing inside businesses, she said.

“I just stand back and wait,” Manuel said. “It’s personal responsibility to not crowd and do that.”

Manuel doesn’t like the idea of requiring stores to mandate masks because she thinks it will hurt business, she said.

There are different kinds of masks, said Dr. David Lakey, vice chancellor for health affairs and chief medical officer for the University of Texas System.

Health care workers use N95 masks, which have to be sealed to a person’s face, he said.

“Those type of masks protect you from anything,” Lakey said. “They need to be reserved for the hospitals.”

The push for widespread use of face coverings came when health care workers realized people could be shedding the virus without symptoms, Lakey said.

The virus is spread through respiratory droplets, which masks keep from flying out toward other people, Lakey said.

“The primary role of these masks is to protect other people from getting infected from the respiratory droplets,” Lakey said.

Although people should wash their masks, they shouldn’t worry about catching the virus from a mask, Lakey said.

“That’s not going to be the major way this is transmitted,” Lakey said.

Masks probably offer some level of protection to the wearer, but the point is protect others, said Dr. Richard Lampe, professor of pediatric infectious disease at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center.

“The big thing is the asymptomatic carriers,” Lampe said, referring to people who are infected but have no symptoms of illness. “It prevents them from spreading it.”

But people have to wear the mask correctly and put it over their nose and mouth, he said.

There’s not a great deal of data or studies evaluating the cloth masks that people have been using, but they’re going to be better than nothing, said Dr. Jason McKnight, a family medicine physician at the Texas A&M University College of Medicine.

McKnight wears a surgical mask at work, but he wears a cloth mask at the grocery store, he said.

Masks have an added benefit of preventing people from touching their faces, McKnight said.

The only people who shouldn’t wear masks are small children — who breathe differently than adults — or people who can’t remove their masks by themselves, which can cause safety issues, McKnight said.

People who have such severe respiratory issues that they can’t wear a mask, should probably stay at home, he said.

“You probably should not be leaving your house to begin with,” McKnight said.

It’s usually not worth it for children to wear masks because it can be a health concern to the child and rates of spread from children are low, Lampe said.

Keiser agrees with rules requiring businesses to mandate masks for customers and employees, like those enacted by Galveston and Dickinson, he said.

“If every single one of them was wearing a mask, the chance of spread from contact was very very low,” Keiser said.

When it comes to the outdoors, when to where a mask depends on the situation, Keiser said.

“When I ride my bike, I don’t wear a mask,” Keiser said.

If people can isolate themselves, it’s all right to forgo the mask, but if they’re going to be in any kind of crowd, they should wear a mask, he said.

Although it’d be great if mask wearing could cut out transmission of the virus, the real point is to slow down the spread, McKnight said.

“The ultimate goal would be to eliminate spread, but the more realistic goal is that you slow and minimize transmission,” McKnight said.

Keri Heath: 409-683-5241; or on Twitter @HeathKeri.


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(18) comments

Walter Dannenmaier

As a regular citizen, I implore the experts to wear gags to prevent them from creating more unnecessary panic. The experts have performed poorly this year.

Wayne D Holt

Although people should wash their masks, they shouldn’t worry about catching the virus from a mask, Lakey said. “That’s not going to be the major way this is transmitted,” Lakey said.

That's a rather curious conclusion. You wear a mask to protect others, as the story says, not to protect yourself. So, if you have been mildly exposed to the virus somehow, you are protecting others by breathing in the virus in a continuous cycle as you inhale the infected droplets you just exhaled over and over again, thus guaranteeing you will develop a full blown case.

Well, maybe it's the other way around; you're OK but all those creepy people near you look sickly so your mask is your first line of defense. If that's the case, every in-breath is vacuuming up whatever droplets the creeps have been exhaling nearby and passing it through...your mask. Your mask becomes the Purolator filter of all the Covid virus floating around, concentrating it in front of your nose and mouth where, ta-da! you breathe it in continuously. Even if you leave the creeps and move away, that mask is stuck to the front of your head and it keeps on treating you to the rejuvenating effects of continuous Covid exposure.

Good thing you shouldn't worry about it because it would be really scary if you did.

Ray Taft

“...turned handling of the pandemic into something of a political football.” You betcha this constant bombardment from TDN about the China virus has more to do with Democrats’ politics than science. Most masks only stop you from infecting someone else not the other way around.

Coronavirus deaths are way down. Mortality rate is one of the lowest in the World. Our Economy is roaring back and Democrats want to shut it down. So Democrats and their good friends in the media are trying to scare us.

The number of ChinaVirus cases goes up, because of great testing, while the number of deaths (mortality rate), goes way down.

There’s double standard.

Democrats want to release prisoners into the public. If masks were the end all to preventing a China virus infection, they would just give masks to the prisoners and leave them where they are.

If people can go out and protest and create all sorts of havoc, without the same government officials telling them to stop because they’re not wearing masks, then no one really needs to wear a mask.

Democrats and NeverTrumps want to lock us all down, again, to stop that awful orange man. Mandatory masks and all the hype about it in TDN is a step in that direction.

Bailey Jones

Masks work. The science is simple. And it's easy to prove with a simple test. I actually made a video of the test I did yesterday and posted it for my skeptical friends. But don't believe me - do the test yourself.

Get a common household spray bottle filled with water, or whatever. Pull the trigger and observe how far the droplets travel. This simulates a cough or sneeze.

Now place a piece of cotton cloth (or whatever mask you have) over the sprayer and repeat. Observe that the droplets travel much less. In my test, the difference was several feet without a mask to less than an inch with the mask.

Here's another simple test. Get a mouthful of water. Blow it out your lips to make a spray. Observe how far it goes. Put on a mask and repeat. Observe the difference.

Science is your friend. In the case of COVID, it's your only friend.

Carlos Ponce

"This simulates a cough or sneeze." That's why one covers his mouth when coughing, or places a finger across his nose when anticipating a sneeze. I suppose Bailey was brought up differently.

Bailey Jones

Sneezing and coughs are only the most extreme examples, Gracie. Every time you exhale you propel viruses out of your mouth, riding on your breath. If only there was some way to cover a person's mouth all the time. Perhaps some sort of filter that they could wear all the time. I'll work on it and see what I can come up with.

Carlos Ponce

Keep your distance, wash your hands.

Jim Forsythe

And now you have it all over your hand.

Carlos Ponce

Wash your hands, Jim.

Jim Forsythe

Carlos, one of the reasons for the mask is to keep people from touching their mouth area which includes their nose.

If you sneeze into your hand you have more potential for exposure. Using a mask is not that hard!

Carlos Ponce

Wash your hands again, Jim.

Gary Miller

Why do "experts" want healthy people to wear masks? With or without a mask healthy people can't infect anyone. Infected people should not be in public.

Dan Freeman

You cannot know you are or are not infected without a test. Covid 19 is often without symptoms. Stay home, stay apart, wear a mask, wash often.

Carlos Ponce

Thank you for that advice, Prospero Jones.

Bailey Jones

Gary's brain mask is impervious to these facts.

Terri Abraham

Gary, have you not read any of the information about how the virus spreads? That people can and do spread it before they know they're infected. Or, do you just like to post these comments to see if you can get an argument going? I've noticed two other people that do that on a regular basis, and am wondering if I should add yours to the posts not worth reading?

Wayne D Holt

Terri, the WHO says masks are for controlling symptomatic spread in most cases. When we ignore information that we don't like to read, we are biasing our understanding in ways that can have severe impacts. That's how we wound up with a model of 2,000,000 American deaths; decision makers weren't interested in researching other scientifically sound models.

11 June 2020, WHO - Available evidence from contact tracing reported by countries suggests that asymptomatically infected individuals are much less likely to transmit the virus than those who develop symptoms. A subset of studies and data shared by some countries on detailed cluster investigations and contact tracing activities have reported that asymptomatically-infected individuals are much less likely to transmit the virus than those who develop symptoms.

Terri Abraham

Much less likely. Not impossible, not even unlikely, just less likely. I only ignore a couple of people on here who post long winded false information repeatedly.

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