A Lighter 'Viral Load' May Mean You Get Less Sick - And Masks Help With That

by Nikkya Hargrove
Originally Published: 
Wearing A Mask Doesn’t Just Protect Others - It Protects You Too
Julia Meslener for Scary Mommy and valentinrussanov/Getty

We are all trying to figure out what is the right (and wrong) way to handle the coronavirus. Should we clean off surfaces or not? Should we shower after being out in public and wash the clothes we were wearing? Should we bathe ourselves (and our kids) in hand sanitizer every five minutes or so?

What we do know for sure is that we need to wear a mask. If the viral message #WearADamnFaceMask — which was shouted from every corner of the internet from celebrities like Tracee Ellis, Mindy Kaling, and Reese Witherspoon — didn’t get your attention, then you’ve been pretty absent from the (important) national dialogue about wearing a face mask. Does wearing a mask stop the spread of the virus completely? No, but it does help in slowing the progression of it down to help save lives. So, wear a damn face mask.

Wearing a mask isn’t only about the mask wearer but a courtesy to others, a visible acknowledgment that you are taking this virus (and its spread) seriously. The protection that comes from putting on a mask can keep us safe, and others around us safe too. It’s incredibly annoying and for me, my glasses fog up every time I breathe, but I’d rather deal with that inconvenience than risk being hospitalized because I’ve come down with the virus.

But masks aren’t just about protecting others from getting the virus — there is new evidence emerging that masks protect the wearer in significant ways as well.

Infectious disease doctor and author Dr. Monica Gandhi says in an article for The Conversation, “When you wear a mask – even a cloth mask – you typically are exposed to a lower dose of the coronavirus than if you didn’t. Both recent experiments in animal models using coronavirus and nearly a hundred years of viral research show that lower viral doses usually means less severe disease.”

While she acknowledges that no mask is perfect, and that they may not protect you from getting infected, Dr. Gandhi says that the lower viral load “[M]ight be the difference between a case of COVID-19 that sends you to the hospital and a case so mild you don’t even realize you’re infected.”

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In other words, wearing a mask can ensure that even if you do get infected, the viral load is reduced. That’s important, and yet another reason why masks rock.

A mask isn’t a cure and it won’t completely stop the spread, but as Dr. Gandhi notes, “The goal of any tool to fight this pandemic is to slow the spread of the virus and save lives. Universal masking will do both.” In short, wear a damn mask.

Even the CDC has not wavered on the importance of wearing a mask. Dating back to April, when restaurants, movie theaters, and gyms began to close down indefinitely across the United States, the CDC urged us all to wear a mask while practicing social distancing guidelines. We are teaching our kids to follow the rules and we should too.

A handy piece on NPR, “A User’s Guide To Masks: What’s Best At Protecting Others (And Yourself)” compiled by Maray Godoy, gives us a complete rundown of which masks make sense and for whom. My mask of choice is any one that I can find in my bag, and there are many — from the paper blue mask to the various cotton ones I have. I carry clean backup masks in my car for myself and my kids.

We can even consider making a fashion statement when the monotony of it all gets the best of us. Hundreds of companies have gotten the message (face masks aren’t going anywhere) and everyone should wear them. Companies like Z Wraps give back to communities in need from the making of their adult-sized 100% cotton face masks (providing jobs for residents in need of work) and then donate portions of the sales of their face masks to causes like the Black Teacher Project out of Oakland, CA. Or companies like Alex and Nova, which make handmade 100% organic cotton fabric and reusable face masks for children. Or eShakti, a company that makes face masks for kids, women, and men; their motto is “Because We Care.”

We wear masks because we care. We make masks for the same reason. The moral of the story is this, wearing a face mask matters, no matter if you buy yours from Walmart, Target, or some bougie alternative. Find some masks you like, or can tolerate for short periods. But come on now — #WearADamnFaceMask. What we do know about the coronavirus is alarming. Wearing a mask can defend against getting the virus much like wearing a condom can defend against one getting STDs; why take the chance if you know what to do, right? We know that people can be asymptomatic and contagious. We know that children can get the virus (and die from it) just like adults. We know enough to protect ourselves and others from this virus, and we still have more to learn as research continues to develop.

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