CLEVELAND — As other states across the U.S. issue mandatory mask orders, Ohio's statewide mask policy remains voluntary.
Locally, Cleveland's mayor signed an order mandating masks last Friday, with the Cleveland City Council set to take legislation up at its meeting next week. The Cuyahoga County Council is also expected to discuss a possible mandate this week.
Amid these discussions, however, misinformation has been circulating online. Among the claims is the idea that carbon dioxide can build up when people wear masks for too long, causing harm to the body.
"It's a myth and that is not the case," Dr. Robert Salata said.
Salata is a professor and chair of the Department of Medicine and the master clinician in infectious diseases at Case Western Reserve University and University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center.
He said that because most masks do not fit tightly, there's very little risk of that happening and that these claims have not been verified scientifically.
Asked why he thinks misconceptions about masks are so persistent during this pandemic, Salata said, "People are looking for anything these days not to wear them."
Salata said there is "current and increasing published literature" that shows how effective masks are, both for the person wearing them and for someone else.
"I think this is protective against both aerosolized particles, and there's more information coming out about that, as well as respiratory droplets, which seem to be the major risk for transmitting this virus infection to others," Salata said.
However, Salata said voluntary compliance does not seem to be working in Ohio.
"The state of Ohio and Governor DeWine have strongly recommended that masks be worn in public," Salata said. "But that's not happened, as we see scenes of people not wearing masks or with large gatherings, etc."
Amid an uptick of cases in Ohio, Salata said we must reconsider.
"To me, this represents an out-of-control forest fire, so to speak," Salata said.
He added, "Most of us in the field really would like to see more significant recommendations from the [federal government] in terms of universal masking because it's just not happened."
Misconceptions about masks aside, Salata said it can also be confusing for people to have different rules to observe in different cities when it comes to wearing masks.
"When we need direction from the highest levels, we're just not getting it right now," Salata said.
Salata noted that there are "very few circumstances where people cannot tolerate wearing a mask, either because of skin conditions that occur when the mask is in place [or] they may have severe asthma that is worse."
However, he said there are alternatives for those individuals, such as wearing face shields instead.
In Cleveland, police and health officials are enforcing the mask order. However, Mayor Frank Jackson said citations cannot be issued until legislation passes at the July 15 city council meeting.
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