Gregg County health official: Face masks worked in 1918, will work in 2020

Masks can provide barrier to keep wearer from directly touching their face

Gregg County health official: Face masks worked in 1918, will work in 2020

LONGVIEW, Texas (KLTV) - Some believe it’s become a necessity: wearing face masks in public to reduce the risk of contracting the novel coronavirus. In 1918, the world had its last major pandemic with the Spanish flu. KLTV speaks with the Gregg County Health Authority to find out if wearing masks helped flatten the curve a century ago.

To mask or not to mask is a big question. Some people swear by it, some people swear at it, but according to an article on CNN.com there is evidence mask usage flattened the infection rate during the 1918 flu pandemic. Gregg County Health Authority Dr. Lewis Browne thinks it’s helping now, and likely did back then.

“It’s interesting that they had understood to start using masks, but I believe that they had pretty well been using them in surgery and they just decided, well hey we’ll do this and see if it would help,” Browne said.

Of course, their masks were a looser weave, home made with folded gauze, and considerably different than what we have today.

“The ones that they had were more like a bandana, completely covered the face except for the eye. They couldn’t touch their face,” Browne said.

And as far as touching a surface contaminated with the flu or coronavirus and then your face:

“You’ve got a little bit of a barrier so you could touch the outside of the mask. And even if you touch the mask, you’re not pushing it through the mask,” Browne said.

But both the flu and the novel coronavirus have a:

“Propensity to go to the nose, the respiratory stuff, I mean your whole respiratory tract gets infected with either one of these,” Browne said.

And, generally speaking, people wearing a mask are aware they are wearing a mask.

“It may be enough of a deterrent to also realize, hey, don’t touch your face,” Browne said.

So protecting your face from contamination from the hands is important, and apparently was a century ago. But with coronavirus:

“We are really seeing more and more that it really is going not from this contact spread; more person to person, which makes more sense than anything. And I would think the infectivities as being proven that that’s how you really get infected more than picking it up off a surface,” Browne said.

So, Browne thinks with COVID-19 you need to watch what you touch, but more importantly be aware of the air.

Brown strongly urges the use of masks when in public, especially in an enclosed space with other people. According to the CNN.com article on the 1918 flu pandemic, not wearing a mask could have resulted in a fine or jail time.

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