UAB doctor offers new guidance on masks for COVID-19

Local News

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) – Homemade cloth masks may or may not protect people from COVID-19. But in the midst of a pandemic, Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo says they are worth a try.

Marrazzo is the director of UAB’s division of infectious diseases. She admits she usually focuses on data-driven recommendations, but she says there’s not much to lose in a situation like this.

“When you look at what’s happening in New York, Detroit, New Orleans, you know, at this point, if it helps us avoid those scenarios, why not?” Marrazzo said Wednesday during a news conference that reporters could access only by video or phone.

Cases of COVID-19 surpassed 1,000 in Alabama Wednesday, and the spread shows no signs of slowing down. One of Marrazzo’s biggest current concerns is asymptomatic infection – when the virus lives in a person who’s showing no symptoms. It can remain in this state for up to five days before signs of the virus appear, meaning the carrier could infect others without knowing they’re infected themselves. And it could be one of the reasons COVID-19 is spreading so rapidly.

“That’s why the advice to just stay home if you’re sick or stay away from people if you’re sick is not enough,” she said. “And that’s why we continue to emphasize widespread social distancing.”

And those guidelines still apply to people who chose to wear masks. Marrazzo says wearing one should not make you feel invulnerable. She says the CDC, while being “pretty permissive” about the masks, still is not saying people should do wear them. They’re not as protective as N95 masks, which she says should be given to medical professionals on the front lines.

Testing sites, meanwhile, are improving. Marrazzo says it’s possible that people who had infections were turned away from some sites during early testing due to crowding. But the traffic at those sites has died down, and everyone who needs a test should now be able to get one.

“People should be able to get tested if they want to get tested,” she said. “I would still say if you don’t have symptoms and you were not in close contact and you’re not a healthcare worker trying to decide if you should go back to work, you probably don’t need to be tested.”

Doctors can now test about 400 people per day at UAB’s testing site. That’s up from the limit of 250 daily tests they initially were able to offer in the early days of the outbreak.


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