Why Quarantine Fatigue is Forcing Mandatory Face Masks Rules

As cases go up, health professionals want us to put our masks on


June 22, 2020 

Cases growing in 20 states

How things change in the time of Covid-19. Remember back in April, when New York City became the epicenter of the virus with dramatic increases in cases every day? Now in just a few months, Covid-19 cases are dropping in NYC, and the city is reopening in phases.

Contrast that with more than 20 states, including North Carolina, which had few cases early on but are now seeing dramatic spikes in Covid-19 diagnosis.

Quarantine fatigue

What’s happening? Two Duke University medical experts say quarantine fatigue could be partly to blame.

“I think that fatigue expands to many things, including mask-wearing and social-distancing,” said Dr. Cameron Wolfe, an associate professor of Medicine and Infectious Disease Specialist at Duke University. “Unfortunately, I suspect the phased reopening has encouraged a little bit of a letdown of folks’ guard and I think that has played into disease transmission.”

In addition to states lifting lockdowns and community spread from people not wearing masks and social distancing, the experts also believe the virus is catching up to communities that were previously not impacted.

Requiring Masks

And all of those reasons are why more states are requiring face masks to be worn in public.

“The data has really shown that wearing a mask and preventing those respiratory droplets from spreading on other people is really effective,” adds Dr. Sallie Permar, a professor of Pediatric Infectious Disease, Immunology and Molecular Genetics at the Duke School of Medicine. “You wear a mask to prevent infecting others although it does play some role in protecting yourself as well.”

“We understand now very clearly this virus has a pre-symptomatic phase,” adds Wolfe. “Even though I may have no symptoms today and have no idea of the fact I may become sick in a day or two, I can pass the disease on unwittingly. So, my wearing a mask fundamentally protects you when I don’t know I’m sick or infectious. That part of the science is actually pretty clear.”

But which mask is best?

Since the N-95 mask is recommended for health care workers, there are really only two choices for the average person:

Medical Mask 

  • Good at catching large respiratory droplets when the wearer sneezes or coughs.
  • Made of a synthetic, paper-like material that can block about 60%-80% of particles.
  • Disposable and should only be used once.

Homemade Mask

  • Thicker material is better as long as it's still breathable
  • Should be washed after every use.

Both types of masks are effective as long as they cover the nose and mouth.

“The wearing of any mask, including cloth masks, is very satisfactory at me preventing you getting sick,” said Permar. “That’s the public health part of this. When I walk down the street wearing a mask, I’m doing that for other folks around me, not fundamentally for me.”

“If we consider ourselves to be data-driven and we see the data heading in the wrong way, it’s nonsense to think we can continue doing the same thing and expect that trajectory to change,” Wolfe added. “If you want to keep opening and if we want to allow businesses to function, an individual choice on behalf of our collective, for me to wear a mask seems like a smaller move than closing down again.”

—Frank Graff

Frank Graff is a producer/reporter with UNC-TV, focusing on Sci NC, a broadcast and online science series.

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