BETHLEHEM, PA - The guidelines for ordinary citizens’ personal protective equipment continue to change. A newly signed executive order in Pennsylvania will require all employees of essential businesses, and most customers, to wear masks.
Pennsylvania Secretary of Health, Dr. Rachel Levine, explained Thursday, "We recommend that if someone comes to a retail store, a grocery store, and doesn't have a mask, that they be asked to go home and get a mask."
Stores supplying medical items or food are also being told to prepare alternative methods of pick-up or delivery by Sunday; when the order goes into effect. At the same time, customers who cannot wear masks because of a medical condition and children under two years old are excluded from the mask requirement.
"Our mitigation efforts have been successful but they need to continue.," says Levine, "We need to do everything we can to prevent the spread of the dangerous virus, COVID19. And so we want to protect workers that are in those life sustaining activities, the really brave workers that are in grocery stores, pharmacies, other types of businesses who really help us every day. And so the best way to protect them is for everyone to wear a mask."
Revised guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now recommends people wear non-medical cloth masks while in public to decrease the risk of COVID19 transmission. The change follows weeks of insisting only medical professionals, those who are sick and those caring for the sick needed to wear them. Dr. Mark Knouse of Lehigh Valley Health Network agrees masks are an important strategy to slow the spread of the virus, but knows using it correctly makes all the difference.
"The front of the mask is considered contaminated. So one should not really touch the front of the mask except in the initial deployment of the mask," Dr. Knouse explains to PBS39 News Tonight Reporter, K.C. Lopez, "After using the mask you should be very careful to remove the mask from the straps behind the ears and not touch the front of the mask. And always remember, before and after placing and removing the mask, hand hygiene should occur."
The CDC recommends washing cloth masks every day, after use. Although officials warn masks and gloves are to be used in addition to other protective measures like social distancing and handwashing; not instead of. Dr. Deborah Birx, Response Coordinator on The White House's Coronavirus Task Force said in early April. "The most important thing is the social distancing and washing your hands. And we don’t want people to get an artificial sense of protection because they are behind a mask. Because if they are touching things--remember your eyes are not in the mask-- so if you’re touching things and then touching your eyes, you’re exposing yourself in the same way."
And Knouse agrees; these strategies in conjunction with one another are the safest way to keep ourselves, and others, healthy.
"The best way to minimize transmission in the community is social distancing and stay at home," says Knouse, "If everybody did that all the time, the transmission rates in the community would drop exponentially. Hand hygiene and mask wearing are important adjuncts but should never replace social distancing and stay at home."
But when you can’t stay at home, it’s important to remember to clean your hands with soap and water before putting on a mask, make sure it covers your mouth and nose and there are no gaps between your face and the mask, avoid touching the covering while you use it, replace the mask with a new one when it becomes damp and do not reuse single use masks and when you’re ready to take it off, do not touch the front of the mask, discard it immediately and clean hands afterwards.
Click on the video player above to watch the full story from PBS39's K.C. Lopez. Got a news tip? Email K.C. at KCLopez@wlvt.org