Should You Wear A Mask? Yes.

by Jane Ashley

“Should I wear a face mask?” has become an emotionally-charged question these days. You may be wondering what’s right for you as a cancer patient or survivor.

Wear A Cloth Mask

First and foremost, follow the advice of your oncologist — they know your particular situation and condition and will advise you as to what’s best for your situation.

Why should we wear masks during the COVID-19 pandemic?

First and foremost, wearing a mask helps slow down the spread of COVID-19. You may see that the recommendations change as new evidence becomes available. Still, experts from around the world agree that wearing a face mask in public or at gatherings where people outside of your household are present helps prevent transmission of COVID-19.

Why? COVID-19 is primarily spread from person to person by respiratory spray. Wearing a mask protects others when you sneeze, cough, and talk. Yes, even talking and singing pushes respiratory droplets into the air.

But why wear a mask if I’m not diagnosed with COVID-19? The problem is that many people don’t exhibit symptoms even though they are infected with COVID-19. By wearing a mask, we are showing our respect for others by helping prevent the spread if we don’t know that we are positive for COVID-19.

However, there is another reason why we at WhatNext should be wearing a face mask . People who are a high risk for serious complications if they contract COVID-19 should wear masks to help protect themselves when in public settings and small gatherings. Who is at high risk for serious complications?

• Anyone over 60
• Anyone in active treatment for cancer
• Cancer survivors, particularly lung cancer survivors, survivors who have compromised immune systems from bone marrow or stem cell transplants, survivors who have low white cell counts, survivors who have had lung mets, and had wedge resections. Ask your oncologist for specific guidance about wearing a mask.
• People with heart disease
• People with chronic lung disease
• People who have diabetes
• People who are obese
• People with compromised kidney function
• People who have sickle cell disease

The truth is that it’s better to be safe than sorry. Protecting yourself from COVID-19 is particularly true in a two-person household. If you contract COVID-19, you have to self-isolate at home. How can you reasonably do that without endangering the other person in your household? 

Here are some examples of two-person households:

• Taking care of an elderly parent
• Caring for a disabled adult
• Older couple

If you live in one of these two-person households, be cautious. Practice social distancing, always wear a mask and wash your hands frequently.

Social Distancing

Where am I going to have to wear a mask?

Regulations vary and change as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve. When hot spots crop up, state and local officials may issue requirements to wear face masks when out in public.

However, there are some places where masks are going to be mandatory for the foreseeable future.

• Cancer centers. Cancer centers have had to adapt and adjust to the pandemic to provide continuity of care because “cancer can’t wait.” Some cancer centers are prescreening patients with phone calls before your visit. They will also advise you about their visitor policy, which is now strict. Many centers don’t allow anyone (even a family member), except in extraordinary circumstances. They may ask you to, at least, wear a scarf or bandana to the center if you don’t have a mask. You can expect to be greeted at the door with a triage nurse who asks questions about symptoms, travel, and if you or a household member has been tested for COVID-19. Then, the nurse will check your temperature and replace your bandana or cloth mask with one that the cancer center provides.
• Other medical facilities. Virtually all medical facilities require patients to wear masks — the facilities are providing them so that no patient faces economic hardship. You’ll see the requirement for a mask at primary care and specialist offices, urgent care, and radiation treatment centers.

The New York Times surveyed over 500 epidemiologists in mid-June about mask-wearing, and more than half predict that masks will be necessary for the next year, or possibly longer.

Masks are going to be required for students going back to school, whether elementary, high school or college.

Local, state and private entities are endorsing the use of masks in public places and in retail and dining establishments (even if you are picking-up takeout).

Wearing masks is to protect us all — our society, as we know — our way of life. Wearing masks is not an infringement on our rights.

 People can be contagious before they develop a single symptom.
 People who test positive may never develop even one of the common symptoms.

Wearing masks is for the public good. Our economy and our unfettered way of life can’t return until we curb the spread of COVID-19, and an effective vaccine is available worldwide.

Is wearing a mask safe?

Contrary to the rumor that is circulating that wearing a mask lowers your oxygen level, that rumor is not true.
In general, wearing a mask is safe for almost everyone. Again, ask your oncologist or their nurse or PA if it is safe for you to wear a mask when you are in public.

 Masks are not recommended for children under 2 years old.
 Anyone who is displaying urgent, sudden onset breathing difficulties.
 Anyone unconscious or incapacitated.

Lungevity.org is an organization supporting lung cancer patients. They recommend the use of cloth masks (not surgical masks or N95 masks) even for lung cancer patients — consult with your oncologist to ensure that you are following the best practice for your medical condition.
Study after study shows that wearing a cloth mask or the mask furnished by your cancer center or other medical providers will NOT lower your oxygen level. This rumor is another example of fake news about COVID-19 and the ways to help prevent its spread.

Make A Cloth Mask At Home

Sound Advice for WhatNexters

Follow the 3W’s.

• Wash your hands frequently.
• Wear a cloth covering over your mouth and nose.
• Wait six feet apart — aka practice social distancing.

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