CDC recommends you wear a mask. Local health officials say that's just 1 tool

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When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended residents wear some kind of face covering when out in pubic, it was meant to be used as another tool in the fight against the coronavirus (COVID-19).

The directive called for using the covering when in a location or situation where maintaining social distancing is more difficult, such as grocery stores or markets.

Harnett County Health Director John Rouse said the mask is more of a protection for those around the person using the covering than it is for the person. He said the primary purpose of cloth masks is to simply catch what comes out of your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing.

He describes it as being the same action as a person who uses a handkerchief when they have a cold or the flu.

“If you cough or sneeze, it’s going to catch the wetness coming out of your mouth, not all of it,” he said. “It’ll catch the big stuff.”

North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen addressed the use of face coverings during a press conference Monday afternoon.

During her comments, Cohen supported the use of face coverings and also reminded residents the need to use it as a tool and not a solution.

“Cloth coverings can play a role in controlling the spread if they’re used properly and in combination with other tried and true things like washing your hands and wiping down surfaces,” Cohen said. “If used incorrectly face coverings can expose a person to more germs rather than less. The very best evidence on reducing the spread of the virus is to social distance and stay home. So please help us save lives and stay home.”

Rouse said he believes the use of face coverings will ­— at the very least — help people feel better about the environment they’re already in and give them perhaps a sense of being able do something to better their own situation.

“Is it going to be a game changer? I don’t know,” he said. “Does it make people feel better? Probably. And if you cough in it is it going to catch the wet stuff? Yes, it will do that.”

One of the benefits of wearing a cloth face covering is that it can be re-used, unlike surgical masks and even the N-95 masks.

“Just because you wear it one time doesn’t mean you have to throw it away,” Rouse said. “Think of it as a handkerchief. We use it, we wash it, we use it again.”

Rouse said the covering should fit around the face and cover the nose and mouth completely. The covering should not dangle or flop around on the face.

When it comes to the mask itself, it should be absorbent and not allow the particles coming from the wearers mouth to spread significantly.

“You want something to absorb it if you’re going to cough or sneeze in it,” Rouse said. “If you have something that is, let’s say, water repellent, if you sneeze or cough in it, it’s going to run down your shirt or drip on something and what good is that? At least with cloth, it will absorb the wetness.”

Recommendations from the CDC call for making the face coverings from tightly knitted cotton material, which is more absorbent than the material T-shirts are made of, although the CDC does say using T-shirt material is a viable option for temporary use.

The CDC has posted instructions on its website for people to use as a pattern for creating their own cloth coverings. It can be found at cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/diy-cloth-face-coverings.html.

Rick Curl can be reached at rcurl@mydailyrecord.com or at 910-230-2037.

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