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Keys, Wallet… Mask

by Mickey Brandt

While the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) inexplicably published guidelines in March discouraging the use of face masks by the public, the recommendation has now changed. In the opinion of most epidemiologists, wearing a mask at work and in public, especially indoors, is a way to limit community spread of the virus.

With businesses now allowed to reopen on a planned timetable, this is an important time to understand this issue.

“Nobody knows who has this virus and who doesn’t,” said Tommy Serra, owner of Tommy Serra Hair Salon & Spa in Vineland, NJ, “So masks are important, they really are.”

Serra will open his business on Monday under the state COVID-19 policies after a costly closure of more than two months and staff and customers will have to wear face coverings.

“It would be terrible if someone got sick, so I will be vigilant,” Serra added.

SNJ Today Newspaper compiled a list of a few of the places where masks are available locally.

South Jersey Paper Products in Vineland sells three-ply surgical masks and KN95 medical grade respirators, along with both disposable and reusable face shields. The surgical masks and disposable face shields are well under $1 each at this time and the supply is good.

(The 95 signifies the mask filters out at least 95 percent of fine particulates, including the tiniest virus-carrying droplets.)

Ace Plumbing, Heating & Electrical Supplies, in Vineland and six other southern New Jersey locations, ships protective masks nationwide and supplies them to local stores and the public, according to John Sperratore, general manager.

“We supplied a lot of masks to first responders,” he said. “And we want to help the community in any way we can.”

Ace carries KN95s and also sells individual surgical masks as well as boxes and cases at standard prices.

Frank Burton & Sons in Bridgeton has a big stock of what are called daily-wear face masks, made of black T-shirt material, for $1.99 each.

“They have slits in the sides for your ears so they go on and off easily,” said Russ Woodward at Burton’s. “It’s a great material—they block spittle, but it’s not hard to breathe through them.”

While CK Nails, in Bridgeton’s Upper Deerfield Plaza, is not open for its usual services because of COVID-19 restrictions, it’s doing an alternative brisk trade in many styles of cloth face masks, including difficult-to-find kids’ sizes. Masks sell for between $3 and $6. CK also sells face shields.

“Just please wear a mask to come in,” said manager Eric Chu.

Vineland’s Rental Country has KN95 respirators at $5 each.

Miracle Tailors in Millville, has a large basket of cute $5 fabric masks, handmade in the shop.

Regardless of whether your mask is a respirator, surgical mask, or fabric one, wearing it incorrectly reduces its efficiency.

According to the CDC, common habits you should try to avoid include fiddling with the mask and accidentally touching your face, taking the mask on and off frequently, or wearing it too often around your neck and then slipping it on again.

Erin M. Sorrell, PhD, an assistant research professor in Georgetown University’s department of microbiology, said in an e-mail, “It’s better for the mask to not be around your neck because if there were contamination, you don’t want that in the neck area where you could touch it.”

Describing the consensus of experts, The New York Times reported it’s best to wear your mask so it goes all the way from the bridge of your nose to below your chin and is tight enough to not leave gaps on the sides. Wash your hands or use 70 percent alcohol sanitizer before putting on your mask and after taking it off and hold just the straps as much as possible. Change your fabric mask at least daily. If you have washable masks, wash and dry each before using it a second time. Try to change your mask if it gets damp, as the coronavirus apparently survives better with moisture.

“Technically, all respirators and surgical masks are designed for one-time use,” said Brandon Spector, managing director at South Jersey Paper. “In health care, respirators are good for hours while surgical masks are usually disposed of frequently—but let’s face it, that’s hard for ordinary people to do.”

Cloth masks are mostly used for routine activities and a lot of times are the only practical alternative. CDC guidelines on fabric masks state: “A cloth face covering may not protect the wearer, but it may keep the wearer from spreading the virus to others.”

Quality is a consideration in selecting your protective mask.

“The question of imported masks such as the KN95 is that other countries like China have nowhere near the same manufacturing standards as the U.S.,” said Sperratore. He recommended getting respirators and surgical masks only from reputable vendors.

The industrial conglomerate 3M recently sued a California resident for trademark infringement by selling “damaged, counterfeit, or tampered with” masks on Amazon and raking in $350,000 by charging almost 20 times the normal price.

Note that masks like the PN2.5 and others with one-way valves or openings are never recommended and are banned in some places, according to the San Francisco Department of Health. They allow the wearer to breathe more easily, but send unfiltered and possibly contaminated breath outward, creating danger instead of protection.

It’s important to understand that unless you’re wearing a 95-level respirator your face covering is primarily benefitting others, not you.

“The whole purpose of the face mask is to protect your talking, sneezing, or coughing droplets from escaping and exposing others, or protecting you from large droplets,” said Sorrell. “Wearing a mask is vital for community health and lets you take an active role in preventing transmission.”

Sorrell pointed out that infected people with no symptoms can spread the virus as easily as those with symptoms.

“It’s better for you to wear a mask,” said Ken Dondero, a partner with Dondero’s Diamonds and Fine Jewelry in Vineland, whose store reopened this week, enforcing all social distancing and mask regulations. “There’s plenty of evidence and the science hasn’t been wrong yet.

“It’s a matter of respect, protecting other people, it’s pretty damn simple,” he added.

It is as simple as it is vital: You wear a mask or face covering because you want to shield others and they do the same for you. This is so important now as people start to have the same interactions as they did when the virus rampaged through society before the stay-at-home orders.

Just think of it as the golden rule of masks.

And you of course have a choice to avoid those who aren’t masked and thus not protecting you.

For a detailed CDC table about the effectiveness of different KN95 respirators:

For complete CDC guidelines on masks:

This article is made possible by a grant from the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University

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Where To Get Your Masks

• Ace Plumbing, Heating & Electrical Supplies, 667 S. Delsea Drive, Vineland

• CK Nails, 40 Cornwell Drive in the Upper Deerfield Plaza

• Frank Burton & Sons, 333 W. Broad St., Bridgeton

• Miracle Tailors, 2138 S. Delsea Drive, Cumberland Crossing Center, Millville

• Rental Country, 1044 Landis Ave. in Vineland

• South Jersey Paper Products, 2400 Industrial Way, Vineland