Digital Exclusive: Masks by the Numbers

Digital Exclusive

WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — National and Pennsylvania death and positive COVID-19 cases continue to grow. Eyewitness News sought out an expert to help clear up some of the debate when it comes to just how effective masks are when it comes to fighting these numbers.

Scientific research into a vaccine, but more importantly at this point, and slowing the spread has come to at least one major conclusion. Dr. Pragya Dhaubhadel, the director of infection control for Geisinger Northeast noted it’s simple math.

“It has been proven with all the scientific studies and all the data that we have for SARS-COVID-2 and COVID-19, a mask is one of the most important measures for prevention and containment,” she noted.

“If you’re not wearing a mask and the people around you aren’t wearing masks and one of us is infected? With COVID-19? The transmission rate is 90 percent, that’s 9-0.” said Dhaubhadel. “If everyone is wearing a mask we can bring that number to 1.5 percent. That shows how important it is to cover our nose and mouth with the protective equipment that is called a mask.”

Cases where a medical condition would prevent someone from wearing a mask for long periods of time are relatively rare. To many, the facewear is a discomfort. For some with conditions like asthma, lung or heart disease — it’s a struggle.

“There are other devices,” she noted. “Let’s think ‘how can we provide services near them instead of them coming to public places?’ That should be the approach.”

Dr. Dhaubhadel says much of the research surrounding coronavirus numbers and how to keep in the know is publicly available.

“There are many resources out there and in this digital world with social and electronic media there is no geographical distance. The most resourceful and true data that you can get is obviously [from] the CDC and Department of Health. For every state there is a Department of Health. For our community? There’s the Pennsylvania Department of Health. Besides those? Geisinger, we have That’s another site that’s very resourceful for the general public to get any kind of recommendation or advice,” Dr. Dhaubhadel said.

According to the CDC, a glimpse at the Coronavirus’s ‘R0’ or reproductive number proves the idea that ‘this is only the flu’ wrong. At the height of the outbreak, it was thought that a single person with COVID-19 could infect between two and four other people, significantly higher than 1.4 for the seasonal flu.

Experts say shutdowns helped lower that number but if we don’t keep using preventative measures like masks and social distancing, it will go back up. 

There’s a wide array of protection–everything from a bandana to the N95 and surgical masks. All play a vital role in containment and experts have recommendations on what should be worn, where.

“For public I would say a cloth mask that covers your nose and mouth is good or adequate enough to prevent transmission of the virus from each other. Surgical masks are recommended for healthcare providers or frontliners. When it comes to the N95, we would like to keep those for the healthcare providers and frontliners who are in direct care of COVID-19 [patients],” Dr. Dhaubhadel said.

“At the same time it has to be worn properly. You have a mask but you don’t touch your face with your hand. Wearing and taking it off properly while also maintaining hand hygiene matters,” added Dr. Dhaubhadel.

Obtaining and wearing a mask is one thing. If you don’t wear it right, those numbers referenced before start to climb.

At the end of the day, these masks may be annoying. Governor Wolf and Pennsylvania Department of Health Secretary Rachel Levine have cited them as part of the ‘sacrifice’ to keep pandemic fallout to a minimum.

“Wearing a mask is an act of kindness. We just think about ourselves, only. Let’s think and go beyond that boundary and think about others. The mask doesn’t protect only you. It is for the people around you. Those people can be your parents, children, uncle, aunt, neighbors who live next door or people in the grocery or hardware store. Those people and the loved ones that belong to them as well,” Dr. Dhaubhadel said.

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