GREAT FALLS — Benefis Health System’s infection prevention coordinator April Woods-Tatarka said wearing a face covering in public is one tool people can use against the spread of coronavirus.
“It does not replace social distancing. It doesn’t replace touching your face, washing your hands - it’s just another tool to stop the spread of this,” Woods-Tatarka said.
She explained face coverings are intended to be used in locations when social distancing can be difficult to ensure, like grocery stores, pharmacies, or crowded parks.
“If you need to go to the store or a place where you can’t know that you’re going to be able to socially distance, so at least six feet or more from other people...the CDC’s recommending you wear some type of a face covering,” Woods-Tatarka said.
Face coverings include bandanas, lightweight masks you might have received from a trip to the doctor’s office, or cloth masks. While the public is encouraged to wear face coverings, only medical professionals are encouraged to wear medical-grade face masks.
That’s because medical professionals are more likely to be in longer periods of direct contact with infected people and their germs than those who spend short stints in public.
“We’re taking care of patients that are positive for something infectious so it’s truly important that we have those tools to use...so that’s why we ask that the general public-for a short trip to the grocery store, or to the pharmacy, you know your risk is lower there..so the CDC’s recommending just that simple face covering,” Woods-Tatarka said.
Woods-Tatarka also explained that face coverings don’t need to be worn at all times. “If you’re at home, you don’t need to be wearing that face mask, or if you’re just driving alone in the car you don’t need to be wearing that face mask, really it’s just to help remind us when we’re in public, we may not be able to keep that social distancing that’s recommended,” Woods-Tatarka said.
After wearing a face covering for a substantial time, you might need to wash it. Woods-Tatarka recommends treating a mask like you would any other garment - washing it when dirty.
“I think you kinda look at it like your clothes, right? And if you've just had it on for a few minutes during the day, I think it’s fine to just inspect that before you put it on. Is it dirty? Are you coughing and sneezing into that mask? If you’re ill, I would change those out or wash them appropriately,” Woods-Tatarka said.
The CDC says washing your mask in the washing machine is an acceptable cleaning method.
Like any prevention method, Woods-Tatarka believes covering your face can help stop the spread of coronavirus. "If we all do it, potentially we could stop the spread of it sooner,” Woods-Tatarka said.