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Professor at RWJMS speaks on use of face masks for coronavirus

Martin Blaser, director of Rutgers University’s Center for Advanced Biotechnology and Medicine and professor in the Department of Medicine and Microbiology at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, said that while fabric masks may not be 100 percent effective, they still aid in keeping people away from one another.
Photo by Rutgers.eduMartin Blaser, director of Rutgers University’s Center for Advanced Biotechnology and Medicine and professor in the Department of Medicine and Microbiology at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, said that while fabric masks may not be 100 percent effective, they still aid in keeping people away from one another.

Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.) issued an executive order requiring all residents to wear facemasks when going out in public on April 11, The Daily Targum previously reported. Martin Blaser, director of Rutgers University’s Center for Advanced Biotechnology and Medicine and professor in the Department of Medicine and Microbiology at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, said face masks will work when individuals use them.

This order comes after previous conflicting reports over the effectiveness and necessity of wearing a face mask. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other experts had initially not mandated the use of face masks because they were unsure as to its capability in preventing the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), according to an article on Wirecutter. People were also asked to save masks so that hospital staff could be prioritized.

“I think there are two reasons (for the conflict). One is (that) people say masks aren’t perfect, so we shouldn’t use it — but I think a little is better than nothing. Second, the public health authorities knew there were not enough masks. So, by saying, you don’t have to use a mask, they were kind of dodging a bullet. But it was the wrong thing to do in my opinion. Recently, the CDC has come out and said masks are good.”

While there is currently a shortage of surgical masks, United States Surgeon General Jerome Adams showed common household items that could serve the purpose of face masks during this time in a YouTube video from the CDC.

“There are all kinds of things online about how to make a mask out of fabric. There are many different possibilities,” Blaser said. “Those masks are not 100 percent effective, but they also serve to keep people away from each other.”

Blaser said places known for their tradition of wearing masks had them as a resource to help get through the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In Asia, there is a much longer tradition of wearing masks. It’s not considered a stigma to wear a mask when you have a cold. So (when) you go into a subway in China or Japan or Korea, you see people wearing masks all the time. I think that helped them get through the epidemic,” said Blaser.

Mitsutoshi Horii, a sociology professor at Japan’s Shumei University, said there is a difference in cultural acceptance of wearing masks. He said that while it is socially acceptable and encouraged to wear masks in countries like Japan, countries in the West rely on eye contact and facial expression for social interaction, according to Time Magazine.

“Most of the people who are dying, unfortunately, are older people, but young people are dying too. Young people are not immune. They really have to understand that,” Blaser said.