PLATTSBURGH — Due to both the large increase in COVID-19 cases locally and evidence which points to their inefficacy in stopping the coronavirus’ spread, gaiters number among facial coverings that are no longer permitted at University of Vermont Health Network, Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital.
Effective Monday, the Plattsburgh facility put into place a policy that requires masks that fully cover your face and nose and fit snugly against your face, like fitted cloth masks, surgical masks and N95s. Face shields worn without a mask along with bandanas, gaiters and masks that have exhalation valves or vents will not be allowed.
Dr. Keith Collins, an infectious disease specialist at CVPH, explained that, if people are coming in for elective appointments donning the unacceptable facial coverings, they will be given an appropriate mask if they are willing to swap out.
“We don’t want to turn anybody away but we have to insist that, for everyone’s protection, they wear something that we know works.”
Study after study has shown that, contrary to experts’ initial thoughts, mask-wearing is beneficial for both health care workers and the general public, Collins said.
“Nobody was really anticipating that a plain cloth mask could actually reduce the risk of a respiratory virus like COVID, but it turned out that the experts were wrong, and they reversed which I think is important that they were willing to reverse course.”
More recently, a Duke University study analyzed how well 14 different types of face coverings — including N95s, surgical masks, cloth masks and gaiters — filtered expelled droplets when people spoke.
Essentially, the researchers had people wear the different types of masks and talk into a box that had a laser beam of light going through it which scattered the droplet particles, allowing for their detection, Collins said.
“As you would expect, the N95s were the most effective in preventing these droplets from traveling, but surprisingly gaiters didn’t stop the droplets. They actually made them smaller."
Smaller droplets, the study says, are airborne longer than larger droplets, meaning "the use of such a mask might be counterproductive."
Nobody expected that finding, Collins continued, but it supported the idea that people should be discouraged from using gaiters.
That being said, he does not fault those he sees in public wearing gaiters.
“The people that are not wearing gaiters, (or) they’re not wearing anything, you can’t convince people that you can’t convince," Collins said. "But these (gaiter-wearers) are people that are trying.
“I think it is really important at this point that people know at least what they should be wearing and at least, you know, they can do the right thing if they want to do it.”
Collins anticipates most people who come to the hospital will have the right kind of mask but, particularly due to higher COVID-19 prevalence in the community, CVPH will not be able to let it go if they do not.
Clinton County’s active case count continued to rise and break previous lab-confirmed case records Tuesday, with the local health department reporting 114.
“If someone comes in with a gaiter, we will give them, free, a cloth mask or a surgical mask, but they can’t use something that’s ineffective at this point,” Collins said.
He added that no one will be turned away from the Emergency Department, even if they refuse to wear a mask.
Collins empathizes with “COVID fatigue” surrounding mask-wearing.
“But we’ve got to do it, you know, that’s just it,” he said, adding that there is not yet a vaccine. Early data has shown vaccines being developed by Pfizer and Moderna are more than 90 percent effective.
“Even when we get a vaccine it’s going to be a long time before enough people are vaccinated for it to really stop the spread, and then we’re going to have to fight the battle of trying to prove, trying to convince people that the vaccine is safe and that they should get it," Collins continued.
“That’s the (fight) I hope we can win the most because that’s going to be the key to stopping this whole pandemic.”
Collins also noted how a large multi-national study conducted by the World Health Organization showed eye protection has been beneficial in stopping the spread.
As he spoke on the phone, he shared that he was wearing an eye shield.
“What can happen is, if there are droplets around, they can get into your mucus membrane of your eye and there’s transmission.”
While he feels a shift toward also wearing eye protection would be helpful, Collins questions how realistic that would be.
“If we could just get people to wear masks, I’d be happy right now,” he said.
“I don’t want to shoot for the moon when I can’t even get across the street.”
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