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The science and debate behind wearing a mask

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(WREX) -- Since May 1, Illinoisans have been required to wear a mask or a face covering when in a public building and not able to social distance. But, some still refuse to and have even marched at the state capitol against wearing a mask.

"Anyone who thinks that wearing a mask, or keeping their distance, doesn't help, you are just wrong," Dr. Ngozi Ezike, the Illinois Department of Public Health Director said from a podium on Wednesday.

We've heard that same speech almost daily from countless leaders, including Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara, Governor JB Pritzker and President Donald Trump.

"If you're not wearing a mask in public, you're endangering everyone around you," said Gov. JB Pritzker in a press conference on July 22. "So, the enemy is you."

"If you can, use the mask," said President Donald Trump from the White House Press Briefing Room. "When you can, use the mask."

Yet, in this country of freedom of speech and expression, we hear a different message from some protesters.

"We don't want to be told how to live our lives," said Thomas Leger, a protester at the Wisconsin State Capitol. "We don't want to be told to wear masks. If somebody does, yeah that's fine, everybody has their choice."

But, don't just take what you hear from leaders or protesters, take it from the science and the people fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.

"There are multiple studies both inside the U.S. and outside the U.S. that show wearing a mask has decreased the spread at very high numbers," said Dr. Yaser Zeater, a Pulmonary Critical Care Doctor at SwedishAmerican. Dr. Zeater has been on the front lines of the pandemic in the ICU.

Dr. Zeater adds that wearing one is the cheapest way to fight COVID-19.

"Using a mask doesn't cost much," he said. "It might be uncomfortable but it is the least costly on our country, our economy, our kids' schools and college. Life could go on with a mask."

The science behind masks

Doctors, health officials and leaders all say wearing one stops the spread of the virus, and the science backs them up.

To explain, COVID-19, like most respiratory viruses, lives in droplets of those who are infected. Those infected can either have symptoms or be asymptomatic carriers. Without a mask, those droplets can travel far. They can travel six feet when talking, even farther when coughing or sneezing, and more than 20 feet when singing.

If you have a mask on, the droplets stay close to the person wearing the mask. They may float a couple of feet away, but eventually die off, or fall to the ground. So, the more people wearing a mask, the more protection.

What kind should you wear?

The three main types of masks are an N95 respirator mask, a surgical mask, or a cloth homemade mask.

First, N95 masks are used in the hospital, doctor's offices, nursing homes and more. These masks keep out the most particles, and keep the person wearing it from spreading them. But, the CDC suggests the public stays away from wearing these masks because they are critical for healthcare workers and other first responders.

Next, a surgical mask. These are also used in the hospital but are much easier for everyone to purchase. They do provide a barrier between the person with one on and others, but do not provide full protection from allowing particles in, like the N95 mask.

Finally, a cloth mask. These are the least effective, but still effective according to the CDC. Multiple clinical and lab studies show these masks do work. They provide safety for others by keeping droplets in. They are required when social distancing is not possible.

Majority of people wear masks

68% of people say they wear a mask. 70% of Republicans and 97% of Democrats say they wear a mask most of the time, according to a new NBC News and SurveyMonkey poll.

When it comes to age, most people say they wear one. 75% of people older than 65 say they wear one every time they leave home. But, just 64% of people age 35 to 54 say they do.

The poll was conducted between July 20 and July 26. Since April, the CDC has recommended mask use when social distancing is not possible.

James Stratton

James Stratton is the Evening Anchor at 13 WREX and reports for 13 Investigates He joined the team in August, 2018 after working at KWQC TV-6 in Davenport Iowa. His work in Illinois and Iowa has been awarded in both states, along with Edward R. Murrow and Emmy Awards at 13 WREX.

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