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Health officials: Face coverings could help slow spread of virus
Social distancing, hand washing remain best prevention
TUSD grab n go lunches
A TUSD food service employee wears a mask while delivering a grab ‘n go lunch to a student’s family. Health officials say wearing a mask in public could help prevent the spread of the coronavirus (Photo contributed).

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday recommended people wear face masks when out in public to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encourages people, especially in areas hit hard by the spread of the coronavirus, to use rudimentary coverings like T-shirts, bandannas and non-medical masks to cover their faces while outdoors.

The recommendation comes in the wake of the White House revealing a statistical model earlier this week of coronavirus spread that showed 100,000 to 240,000 people in the United States could die from the virus. The model was based on the premise of a national stay at home order, but as of Friday five states had no such orders.

The California Department of Public Health released a similar recommendation earlier this week, but stressed that people should not be using the N95 and surgical masks healthcare workers need and which are already in short supply.

“Face coverings are not a substitute for physical distancing or frequent hand washing, which we know are amongst the most effective ways to reduce the spread of COVID-19,” said Dr. Sonia Angell, Director of the California Department of Public Health and State Health Officer. “Wearing a cloth face covering could provide some additional benefit by acting as a reminder for other people to keep their distance, and it could help reduce the spread of infectious particles from those who could be infected but don’t have symptoms.”

“Face coverings could provide some additional protection against COVID-19, but Californians should not have a false sense of security if they choose to wear them. Make sure you’re also staying 6 feet away from other people if you have to leave your home to get groceries or prescriptions,” said California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly.

The new recommendations come as the CDC released new information that as many as 25 percent of people infected with the coronavirus are asymptomatic, but they can be contributing to transmission.

Dr. Juris Grasis, who oversees the immunoviromics lab at UC Merced, said an asymptomatic person could pose an unwitting health threat to other people.

"You could have zero symptoms, yet be 'shedding' or distributing the virus if you are infected," Dr. Grasis said. "You could unwittingly infect someone else who then develops very severe symptoms. This is why health officials are advocating the use of face masks in any way possible now. You may be infected, not show any symptoms, but could be passing the virus on. Therefore, wearing a face mask can reduce the transmission and hopefully prevent person-to-person transmission."

In the case of the coronavirus, "shedding" the virus refers to the water vapor that is released when talking, coughing, or sneezing, Dr. Grasis explained.

"That’s why it’s important to stay outside of 6-foot distance, it’s outside the zone of water vapor release and potentially outside the zone of viral release."

Stanislaus County Public Health Director Dr. Julie Vaishampayan said the use of cloth face masks while out in the community could help slow the spread of the virus.

"If this helps us slow transmission by 5 percent, by 10 percent, that's going to help us with the disease spread," Vaishampayan said. "Anything we can do to move us through this more quickly and better is something we immediately desire."

However, Dr. Vaishampayan said the use of face masks would not discount the need to continue social distancing of at least six feet and regular handwashing.

"This is not a substitute for that," Vaishampayan said.

The CDPH did stress that if people choose to wear a face mask, they should not go out looking to purchase N95 or surgical masks, which are needed by healthcare workers and are in short supply.

A cloth face covering is a material that covers the nose and mouth. It can be secured to the head with ties or straps or simply wrapped around the lower face. It can be made of a variety of materials, such as cotton, silk, or linen. A cloth face covering may be factory-made or sewn by hand, or can be improvised from household items such as scarfs, T-shirts, sweatshirts, or towels.

Cloth face coverings are not a substitute for physical distancing and washing hands and staying home when ill, but they may be helpful when combined with these primary interventions.

Cloth face masks should be cleaned frequently ideally after each use, or at least daily. Have a bag or bin to keep cloth face coverings in until they can be laundered with detergent and hot water and dried on a hot cycle. If you must re-wear your cloth face covering before washing, wash your hands immediately after putting it back on and avoid touching your face. Discard cloth face coverings that: No longer cover the nose and mouth; have stretched out or damaged ties or straps; cannot stay on the face; or have holes or tears in the fabric.

The number of coronavirus cases in Stanislaus County grew to 58 by Friday afternoon. The county has no COVID-19 related deaths, according to the Stanislaus County Health Services Agency. There have been 1,476 negative test results reported to the county. Private labs and clinics do not have to report negative results to the health department.

Of the 58 cases in the county, 25 have been hospitalized, the SCHSA reported. The age range from 18 to 49 years make up the largest group of infections, with 26 cases, though that range also covers more people than the other ranges. People between the ages of 50 to 64 years have 18 cases and people over 65 years have 12 cases. The county has had two cases in children. Thirty-one women and 27 men have the virus.

Modesto has the most cases at 21, followed by the unincorporated areas of Stanislaus County at 12. Ceres has six cases, Riverbank three and Turlock one. Oakdale, Patterson and Waterford have one to four cases each, though the health department did not specify how many for each city. Newman and Hughson do not have any reported cases.

California had 10,701 confirmed cases and 237 deaths as of Friday afternoon. As of Thursday, local health departments have reported 156 confirmed positive cases in health care workers.

Symptoms of COVID-19 include a fever, a dry cough, and body aches. Severe cases of COVID-19 might experience difficulty breathing, pain or pressure in the chest, confusion or inability to arouse, and bluish lips or face. If you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and may have had contact with a person with COVID-19, or recently traveled to countries with apparent community spread, call your healthcare provider or local public health department first before seeking medical care so that appropriate precautions can be taken.

The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus. The virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet). This occurs through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. Older adults and people who have severe underlying chronic medical conditions like heart or lung disease or diabetes seem to be at higher risk for developing more serious complications from COVID-19 illness.

Health officials recommend people:

- Wash hands with soap and water for a minimum of 20 seconds.

- Avoid touching eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.

- Cover a cough or sneeze with your sleeve, or disposable tissue. Wash your hands afterward.

- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.

- Stay away from work, school or other people if you become sick with respiratory symptoms like fever and cough.

People can receive updates about COVID-19 in Stanislaus County by texting STANCOVID19 (all caps) to 888777 to receive updates from the Stanislaus County Office of Emergency Services.