FAYETTEVILLE -- Face coverings can help stop the spread of covid-19 -- if everyone wears one, Northwest Arkansas doctors said.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Thursday he would issue a statewide face covering mandate effective today , superseding any related rules cities have made. Hutchinson's order requires people to wear masks or other face coverings in most indoor and outdoor settings, with some exceptions. Failure to do so can result in a fine of $100 to $500.
Fayetteville, Rogers and Bentonville city councils have passed ordinances requiring face coverings within the past few weeks. Springdale's council passed a resolution supporting local businesses asking customers to wear face coverings.
The main reason to wear a mask is to lessen the ability to spread the virus to others, said Dr. Burton Bledsoe of Northwest Medical Center-Springdale. Some data suggest wearing a mask also protects the person wearing it from contracting the virus, he said.
Facial coverings can help control the pandemic, he said. Covid-19 is most easily spread person to person through respiratory droplets that travel when someone talks, sneezes or coughs. A barrier such as a mask to block those respiratory droplets significantly lowers the chance of spreading the virus, he said.
"The problem is everyone has to do it, not just 30%," Bledsoe said.
Bledsoe said frequent handwashing and cleaning commonly touched surfaces are also very important.
Double-layer cloth masks provide enough protection for the general public, although they are not as effective as surgical masks worn by health care workers. Other face coverings, such as bandanas, still create a barrier and can protect against the virus, he said.
Homemade masks can be made from bandanas, T-shirts or other cotton cloth, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Instructions are available on the agency's website.
Masks should cover the mouth and nose and aren't effective if worn around the neck or forehead, according to the CDC. People should avoid touching the part of the mask touching their face and remove it by only touching the ear loops or ties. All cloth face coverings should be washed after each use. The paper disposal masks are only to be used once.
The CDC recently did a study in Springfield, Mo., where two hairstylists who tested positive for covid-19 worked closely with 139 clients for at least 15 minutes at a time. The stylists and the clients wore face coverings, mostly cloth or surgical masks. None of the clients are known to have had covid-19 after exposure. All of the ones who were tested, about half the clients, tested negative. The others refused to be tested, according to the CDC.
Eyeglasses might fog up while wearing a mask because warm air is escaping the mask, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology. The academy recommends using medical or athletic tape or an adhesive bandage to close the gap between the bridge of the nose and top of the mask to prevent this from happening. A wire can be sewn into the top edge of the mask so it can be bent tighter over the nose.
People who are sick should stay home, according to the CDC.
"There are two, easy nonpharmaceutical interventions that we know work to decrease the spread of the virus -- masks and physical distance," Dr. Stacy Furlow of Medical Associates of Northwest Arkansas said.
"Wearing a mask decreases the risk that an asymptomatic or presymptomatic person will spread the virus to others. When we slow the spread, our society can get back to normal much faster than when the virus is spreading uncontrolled as it is now. It's a win-win," she wrote.
Few legitimate medical reasons exist as to why some may not be able to wear masks -- someone with severe lung disease who needs supplemental oxygen is an example, Bledsoe said.
Dr. Gary Berner, chief medical officer at Community Clinic, has cautioned children younger than 2 shouldn't wear a mask because it can be a choking hazard.
"Just about everyone should be able to wear a mask," Bledsoe said.
Bledsoe said he sees the reason some people refuse or are reluctant to wear masks as multifaceted.
Some people have minimized or politicized the virus or think they aren't at risk so they don't need to wear a mask, he said.
"People don't want to be told what to do. People think it should be a personal choice," he said.
Several people spoke to the Bentonville City Council on Tuesday concerning the mask ordinance. Most were in favor.
"It just feels way too overreaching," Heather Wegner told to the council, according to audio of the meeting.
"I get that people are getting sick, and I certainly don't want people to get sick, but I think that we're smart enough that we can do this without a law telling us we have to, and I think the numbers in Benton County show that," Wegner said.
Benton County had at least 3,661 cases, including 473 active cases, as of Friday afternoon, according to the Arkansas Department of Health.
Blake Worthey told the council wearing masks must be mandated because some people won't choose to do so on their own.
"You are responsible for more than yourself," he said, adding not wearing a mask increases the risk to others of a life-threatening virus.
Curtis Gigen, manager of Phat Tire Bike Shop in Rogers, said the store has had little trouble getting customers to follow the store's mask requirement.
"Most people are happy to follow it," he said Wednesday, the day before Hutchinson announced face coverings would be required statewide.
Some customers have said they forgot their mask or didn't realize the store required one. In those cases, the staff has asked them to stay at least 6 feet away from others.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends all people 2 years and older wear a cloth face covering in public settings and when around people who don’t live in their households, especially when other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.
Covid-19 can be spread by people who don’t have symptoms and don’t know they are infected. That’s why it’s important for everyone to wear cloth face coverings in public settings and stay at least 6 feet away from other people.
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
The Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Mike Jones contributed to this report. Alex Golden can be reached by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @NWAalexgolden.