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Mask Wearing and Flu Shots Protect Yourself and Others

November 16, 2020

As the Pennsylvania Department of Health continues to report record daily increases in COVID-19 cases across the state, preventing the spread of the illness remains a critical step in ensuing that hospitals continue to have the capacity and resources they need to treat every patient who needs care.

Wearing a mask not only protects others from your expelled respiratory droplets, it protects you as well, according to new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The agency recently released a brief providing evidence that tightly woven, multi-layer cloth masks help prevent inhalation of SARS-CoV-2 by the wearer.

Studies have found that multi-layer cloth masks can block between 50 percent and 80 percent of fine droplets and particles, and "limit the forward spread of those that are not captured," the CDC said, "with cloth masks in some studies performing on par with surgical masks as barriers for source control." The positive benefit for SARS-CoV-2 control is due to the combination of these masking efforts; individual prevention benefit increases with increasing numbers of people using masks consistently and correctly.

Consistent mask-wearing is critical to preventing the spread of COVID-19. The Wolf Administration stresses the role Pennsylvanians play in helping to reduce the spread of COVID-19 by taking these steps:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available
  • Cover any coughs or sneezes with your elbow, not your hands.
  • Clean surfaces frequently
  • Stay home to avoid spreading COVID-19, especially if you are unwell
  • If you must go out, you are required to wear a mask when in a business or where it is difficult to maintain proper social distancing
  • Download the COVID Alert PA app and make your phone part of the fight. The free app can be found in the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store by searching for “covid alert pa”

In addition to mask wearing, health care providers across the commonwealth are encouraging every eligible individual to get their flu shot. Facing the convergence of influenza season and the COVID-19 pandemic, avoiding community transmission of respiratory illness becomes even more important. Getting a flu shot not only helps to protect from the flu, it also helps a health care team rule out the flu in sick individuals, and can help in faster diagnosis and treatment. Experts worry that more people may mistake flu symptoms for COVID-19 this winter, causing an increased demand for COVID-19 diagnostic testing and straining limited nationwide testing capacity. Getting the flu shot may reduce demand for testing and will help doctors identify and diagnose cases of COVID-19 more easily.

Additionally, HAP recently released a joint news statement endorsed by more than 50 Pennsylvania organizations and businesses encouraging flu shots. HAP will continue to promote public health messaging and simple steps that Pennsylvanians can take to protect themselves, their families, and their communities from illnesses such as COVID-19 and the flu.

For more information, contact Mary Catanzaro and Clare Edelmayer, HAP’s infection preventionists.