Citing Science, Clinic Takes Aim at Masks with Billboard Ad

“‘Cloth Masks Don’t Stop Viruses’ — Science,” the new billboard along Highway 99E in Canby proclaims.

The message is courtesy of the Canby Clinic, a local naturopathic primary care facility located nearby in downtown Canby, and points to an article by the clinic’s founder and medical director, Dr. Erin Walker, explaining in greater detail her position on cloth masks.

“Cloth face masks do not stop viruses,” Walker reiterates in the piece. “There is plenty of research (and some simple math) to prove it.”

The article compares the size of a typical flu virus (80-120 nanometers) to the size of the gaps in the weave of a cloth face covering (up to 100 microns, or 100,000 nanometers).

“Mathematically speaking, you could technically fit 1,000 flu viruses into a single pore of cotton weave fabric,” Walker says.

However, much of the scientific basis for wearing face coverings amid the pandemic is that the coronavirus is generally spread through larger airborne droplets, expelled when a person breathes, coughs or sneezes.

Though these droplets can be quite small as well (5 microns or less), they are more likely to be caught in the mesh of a tightly woven cloth mask — particularly if the mask is double-layered, as recommended.

“Yes, face masks can catch large, respiratory droplets, which viruses can be attached to,” Walker admits, citing research from the American Institute of Physics. “Cloth masks do not stop all respiratory droplets, however. So, the best a cloth face mask has to offer is the filtering of some larger respiratory droplets.”

Walker also points out the “tricky” nature of attempting to analyze the efficacy of cloth masks. These studies are conducted in sterile laboratory settings, Walker says, which really aren’t reflective of the conditions in which most of us live.

In real life, employees may reuse cloth masks without washing them, put them on without cleaning their hands, and touch them frequently to adjust throughout their shifts.

“What is discovered is that in the ‘real-life’ scenarios, there is a strong potential for increased risk of disease transmission when cloth face masks are worn,” Walker says, citing links to several studies. “Cloth face masks pose another risk: a false sense of security.”

When a cloth mask is touched, all the contaminants (viruses, bacteria, dust, etc.) that are filtered on the mask have the potential to release into the wearer’s face, nose and mouth, Walker says, potentially putting the wearer “at an increased risk of illness.”

Masks also provide less protection the longer they are worn, and more frequently they are washed (because washing can loosen the mask’s weave).

“Cloth face masks should be no replacement for proven beneficial techniques: hand washing, isolating when you are ill, surface cleaning,” Walker wrote. “Cloth face masks are limited (at best) at decreasing exposure to viruses. Cloth face masks do not stop viruses.”

Naturally, the longtime naturopathic physician also encourages people to protect themselves from illness by strengthening their immune systems with a diet of nutrient-rich foods, and avoiding junk food — which can weaken the immune system.

The use of face masks in public spaces is widely recommended by public health officials for reducing the spread of the novel coronavirus, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Near-universal use of face masks could save up to 100,000 lives by February, new modeling from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation suggested last month.

Cloth masks — ubiquitous in most places in Oregon now, after months of their mandated use amid the continuing coronavirus pandemic — have remained a bitter, often partisan flashpoint.

Spats over masks are common on social media, but often spill over into real life, with front-line retail clerks and other employees often left to attempt to referee non-compliant customers.

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