AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – Fact versus fiction… how many different opinions have you heard on masks and what kind we’re supposed to wear and how we’re supposed to wear them? A specialist from Augusta University Health is on hand to help us separate fact from fiction and help us learn the right way to stay safe and healthy. Dr. Rodger MacArthur specializes in infectious diseases at AU Health, and he’s been kind enough to spend part of his busy day with us today.

Brad Means: Dr. MacArthur, thank you for all you do, and thanks for being with us.

Dr. Rodger MacArthur: Are welcomed, thank you, Brad.

Brad Means: First of all, before we get to masks, when will the pandemic be over?

Dr. Rodger MacArthur: Well, I think unfortunately, the pandemic in one form or another is gonna be with us for quite some time. It’s not going to go away by the fall. It’s not going to go away by the winter. Some people say it might be a year or more, but a lot of Virologists now are saying, it’s going to be here. It’s going to be like one of those circulating viruses that may peak in the fall, but it’s gonna be here sporadically they think for quite some time.

Brad Means: When do you see, and I’m getting ahead of myself. This was really gonna be how I closed out the interview, but I’ll just ask you now. So it’s gonna be around for a while, but when will we start to feel normalcy again? Are we all waiting for the vaccine? That seems to be a pretty big perception out there?

Dr. Rodger MacArthur: Well, it’s a little hard to say, and it’s a little too early, in my opinion to say, we’re all hoping that the vaccine is going to work. We’re really hoping it’s going to be safe. It may very well be available as early as March. It probably will not be available this year. That’s I think the most recent estimate.

Brad Means: Once we start getting our shots though, or taking our pills or however we administer that, can we start going to football games, going to the masters, doing things like that pretty soon thereafter?

Dr. Rodger MacArthur: Well, I certainly hope so, but I think for awhile, we’re gonna have to be focusing on the masks and social distancing. I think that’s the new normal.

Brad Means: All right, So let’s take a look at masks and especially which kind works best. Maybe it’s a material that you prefer or a design. What should we go by?

Dr. Rodger MacArthur: Well, the medical surgical masks worked very well. And these reports, these data have been accumulating over the last several months. So there’s a lot of talk of course in the news about N95 masks. They’re in short supply and really, to properly wear them, One needs to be fitted for them. They come in different sizes. So I don’t think that we really need to think about N95 masks. The medical surgical ones, which are available in stores work just fine as do the commercial cloth masks. For instance, Augusta University just passed out a couple of masks to all their staff, to students. And they’re very good. The ones that don’t work are the bandana type masks, the homemade masks, the folded ones, the ones that you wear around your neck. They don’t work very well. They actually, some of them it’s been shown will actually scatter the aerosols, make the bigger aerosols into smaller aerosols , resulting in spray and splatter in effect. So anything that you get in the store, you can reasonably rely on as being effective. And there are a lot of interesting reports coming out of the CDC that will illustrate the effectiveness of masks and the ineffectiveness of not wearing masks.

Brad Means: Yeah, Why don’t those homemade masks or bandanas work? It seems that if you put a thick enough piece of cloth in front of your nose and mouth it’d block anything.

Dr. Rodger MacArthur: Well, some of it’s the weaving of it. Again, some of these little grid weave patterns might make the larger aerosols into smaller aerosols and they’ve just recently tested them, nice little setup at Duke University. You can probably find that their linked to that story and like sort of talk about the different masks, which ones are good and which ones are bad. I think they even rank them.

Brad Means: What about face shields? I’m starting to see more of those, It seems is that sort of the new wave? Should we switch to the plastic shield now? Is that the best?

Dr. Rodger MacArthur: Well, they do different things. The masks cover the nose, the mouth and fit pretty snugly against the face. Face shields are used along with masks in the hospital when somebody is going to be doing close-in work tools, or doing a procedure close in, that is likely to generate aerosols . So we’re not recommending that people walk around with face shields.

Brad Means: Mmh.

Dr. Rodger MacArthur: Now we want the masks. And I alluded to earlier, some studies. So the CDC publishes in a periodical called MMWR and that’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports. Two I wanna highlight, one from middle of July, one from late July. So the one from middle of July reported on two hairstylists, both of whom were symptomatic with COVID-19. They came to work wearing masks. That was the company policy. And the company policy was also that all of the customers wore masks as well. So these two hairstylists between them exposed about 140 individuals. Remember this was a mask encounter,

Brad Means: Right.

Dr. Rodger MacArthur: Close in, because they’re getting their hair styled or cut. And the CDC interviewed all 140 of these potential exposures. None of them were symptomatic. They tested 70 of them for SARS-CoV-2, none of them were positive, masks work.

Brad Means: What if you find some painter’s masks as we did, and I’m sure many people do in your garage or your drawer, can we wear those at least just shortterm? Or do they just not work at all?

Dr. Rodger MacArthur: I don’t think they’ve been studied or tested, so I, they may help a little bit, but I would just spend a few minutes going out to, any commercial establishment and just buy what they’ve got in the shelf. They’re not in short supply anymore. The normal masks or the commercially made cloth ones.

Brad Means: Yeah, You’re right. You can find them everywhere now. What about once you’ve had the coronavirus, are you free from wearing a mask since you can’t get sick anymore? Can you just lose it at that point?

Dr. Rodger MacArthur: We don’t know who develops antibodies. We don’t know the levels of antibodies that are necessary. We don’t know how long those antibodies last. So I would not recommend losing the mask. If somebody has been documented to be positive for SARS-CoV-2. keep wearing those masks, please.

Brad Means: It feels like your breathing in your own breath constantly though. And so that’s created the perception that people are inhaling carbon dioxide, and that can make you sick. Will you address that please?

Dr. Rodger MacArthur: Now, certainly. I don’t know of too many reports of somebody who doesn’t have lung disease or asthma, getting sick from inhaling their carbon dioxide. It’s not pleasant, but of course, a lot of the wrath is escaping up the top, down the bottom, out the sides. So it is unpleasant, but our students wear them. Our faculty wear them. We wear them eight hours a day or more. When we’re inside. I wear them teaching my students, the students wear them, sitting in small groups with me.

Brad Means: Does that get you off the hook for social distancing? If everybody in the room has a mask on? Does that allow us to gather a little more closely?

Dr. Rodger MacArthur: Well, we still encourage social distancing. We try to keep six feet apart from faculty and students from student to student, but especially in those environments where six feet or more social distancing is not possible, masks will make a big difference.

Brad Means: How snug do they have to be? I know sometimes I put mine on and I say, okay, the nose is covered. The mouth is covered,I’m good. But there are, as you’ve mentioned before in this interview, those openings on the side, how snug would you like it.

Dr. Rodger MacArthur: Just the way it normally fits, that’s fine.

Brad Means: Mmh.

Dr. Rodger MacArthur: It doesn’t have to be really snug. It doesn’t have to be uncomfortable. It shouldn’t be hanging down too far. I sometimes see individuals that are only covering or having the mask cover their mouth and leaving the nose open. That’s not a good idea, but it doesn’t have to be uncomfortable.

Brad Means: What about washing them? How often should that take place or do you recommend starting with a new one when the, yet how do you know when it’s worn out and how often should you wash it?

Dr. Rodger MacArthur: Well, let’s talk about the cloth masks and I’m glad you’re asking the question. The CDC has on their website some guidance about that. The CDC says that you can take the cloth masks and put them in with the rest of the laundry, into the washing machine, but they want the wash cycle to be on the highest temperature. They also have a recipe for how you and some guidance on how you can wash these cloth masks in the sink. Now, in the sink because the wash cycle is not as long and the temperature isn’t as hot. They recommend adding a certain amount of bleach. You don’t need to put bleach in the washing machine, but they do want you to put a certain amount of bleach into a certain volume of water. If you’re going to wash the mask in the sink.

Brad Means: If you don’t do that, does it become ineffective? If it gets too dirty, does it just lose all of its effectiveness?

Dr. Rodger MacArthur: Well, we know that the masks are not nearly as effective if they are wet, it probably works if it’s dirty, but it’s not so pleasant to have to put on a mask that’s been worn for more than a few days.

Brad Means: Dr. MacArthur, I cannot thank you enough for talking to me really for the better part of 12 minutes about masks, because it seems on the surface so simple, but just from listening to you, if you don’t follow certain guidelines and certain fittings, they’re not going to work right.

Dr. Rodger MacArthur: Well, that’s right. And now I just wanted to mention one more quick fact. It just came out yesterday out of the South Carolina Department of Public Health. They divided the state into those areas where they have mandatory must wear masks rules. That covers about 40% of the population and other areas where they don’t have those that’s the other 60%. So where they must wear them cities like Columbia, Charleston, Greenville. They’ve shown a 15% decrease in the number of COVID-19 cases in the last month or so. And in the rest of South Carolina where they don’t have those mandates, a 30% increase, it’s a 45% difference favoring using masks.

Brad Means: It’s good information for sure as has all the information that you’ve shared today. Dr. MacArthur, thank you again for what you do and thank you for all the help today.

Dr. Rodger MacArthur: Brad welcome, Thank you for having me on.