Nicole Guida, a substitute teacher and massage therapist, addressed the Park Rapids School Board on Nov. 1, following up on her Oct. 18 remarks about the school bus mask mandate.

The Enterprise asked Marlee Morrison, director of CHI St. Joseph’s Health Community Health, to respond to Guida’s claims.

Guida shared a chart from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) showing that using personal protective equipment, such as masks, is less effective in fighting the spread of disease than practices such as handwashing, ventilation and vaccination.

“COVID-19 spreads mainly from person to person through respiratory droplets,” said Morrison. “Respiratory droplets travel into the air when you cough, sneeze, talk, shout, or sing. These droplets can then land in the mouths or noses of people who are near you or they may breathe these droplets in.

“No one measure will completely eliminate the risk of COVID-19 in an area of high transmission, but layering protections decrease the spread of the virus. Masks are a simple barrier to help prevent your respiratory droplets from reaching others. Studies show that masks reduce the spray of droplets when worn over the nose and mouth. Handwashing, ventilation, and vaccination add further layers of protection to decrease the risk of spreading COVID-19.”

Guida presented data suggesting that viruses are smaller than the particles that masks can effectively filter, allowing them to enter the air as aerosols where they can remain suspended for up to two weeks.

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Guida cited information from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), emphasizing that NIOSH-certified respirators do not necessarily protect against all hazards and those using them should check the approval label to be sure it has been certified against the hazards you want to be protected against.

Graphics that Guida presented to the school board included images from a 2019 article titled “What Is a Micron: A Study of Particles” at ushomefilter.com; a 2021 article comparing mask standards, ratings and filtration effectiveness at smartairfilters.com; an article titled “The Dirt on Dust” from proremodeler.com; and a “hierarchy of controls” chart that can be found on the NIOSH website.

“People release respiratory fluids during exhalation (e.g. quiet breathing, speaking, singing, exercise, coughing, sneezing) in the form of droplets across a spectrum of sizes,” said Morrison. “These droplets carry viruses and transmit infection. The largest droplets settle out of the air rapidly, within seconds to minutes. The smallest very fine droplets, and aerosol particles formed when these fine droplets rapidly dry, are small enough that they can remain suspended in the air for minutes to hours.

“The available evidence continues to demonstrate that existing recommendations to prevent SARS-CoV-2 transmission remain effective. These include physical distancing, community use of well-fitting masks (e.g., barrier face coverings, procedure/surgical masks), adequate ventilation, avoidance of crowded indoor spaces, and vaccination.”

Guida also argued that after being worn for only two hours, or after being touched, masks and respirators become breeding grounds for microscopic pathogens. “If we’re trying to fight a viral infection with something like this, and the data shows it doesn’t do it. It’s completely ineffective,” she said.

“Research supports that mask wearing has no significant adverse health effects for wearers,” said Morrison. “Studies of healthy hospital workers, older adults, and adults with COPD reported no change in oxygen or carbon dioxide levels while wearing a cloth or surgical mask either during rest or physical activity. Among 12 healthy non-smoking adults, there was minimal impact on respiration when wearing a mask compared with not wearing a mask; however, the authors noted that while some respiratory discomfort may have been present, mask use was safe even during exercise.

“The safety of mask use during exercise has been confirmed in other studies of healthy adults. Additionally, no oxygen desaturation or respiratory distress was observed among children less than 2 years of age when masked during normal play.”

Morrison continued, “While some studies have found an increase in reports of dyspnea (difficulty breathing) when wearing face masks, no physiologic differences were identified between periods of rest or exercise while masked or non-masked.

“If your mask becomes soiled you should change masks. Cloth masks should be washed after each use. Surgical or paper masks should only be used once then discarded.”

Guida argued that, given a hypothetical emergency where a surgeon had to choose between wearing a mask or washing their hands, clean hands would be more important. “If we’re gonna do something, we should be washing our hands to prevent infection,” she concluded.

“Good hand washing prevents the spread of illness and is important at all times, not just during a pandemic,” said Morrison. “Masks are recommended in areas of high and substantial transmission, especially indoors. You can find Hubbard County's community transmission data at www.cdc.gov.”