When it comes to reopening America, there are many things that we need to know. Special guest, Richard Lane, MD, MPH and TM, has been blogging on the virus and ways to address it. Here are some of Dr. Lane’s comments regarding wearing masks and social distancing, and what to expect when returning to church.

“As we try to find the balance between normal activities and measures to limit the spread of COVID-19, we need to remain vigilant. This virus remains more deadly than seasonal influenza.

As I have written many times, the mask is intended to contain the large respiratory droplets of the wearer. This article from the UK describes research by engineers that determined the mask slows the forward movement of exhaled droplets by 90%. If, however, the mask wearer coughed or sneezed, air could be expelled through the side of the face covering and pose a risk to someone standing within the 6-foot radius to the side or back. 

Distancing by 6 feet provides adequate protection against spread of disease from an asymptomatic person in normal social settings. Additional distancing is beneficial in the presence of a coughing, sneezing, exercising, yelling, or singing individual. Each of these activities forcefully propel droplets greater distances. A mask counteracts 90% of the forward progress of those droplets and provides extra protection from the infected wearer of the face covering so 6 feet of distancing remains adequate. 

Outdoor activities can be done safely without a mask as long as adequate social spacing can be maintained at all times. You are responsible to move away from others if they become too close. Outdoor markets and other crowded events are riskier and a face covering is useful since others are likely to encroach on your space. You do not need a mask when driving with your own household members in the car since they have already been exposed to your exhaled breath at home. 

The mask can be adjusted during wear to ensure the nose and mouth are covered. When removing a face covering, assume both sides of the mask are contaminated with viral particles. The hands must be washed immediately or sanitized to prevent transfer of potential contaminants to the face.

The CDC has information to help us safely return to church and other faith communities. This page includes a link to specific guidelines and another link with a checklist. Leadership should complete an analysis of their worship forms to determine critical times and places doing worship for transmission of COVID-19. These same guidelines can be adapted for future flu seasons. 

Please stay home from church if sick or if you know you were exposed to this illness. Asymptomatic carriers can spread the disease to vulnerable individuals. A California church held a Mother’s Day service. An attendee tested positive for COVID-19 the next day. By attending the service, this individual exposed 180 other people. They have all been contacted, have or will be tested, and have been in an extended isolation as the state begins to reopen.”

Bottom line is to remain sensible and continue to take precautions. I know this is not what most of us want to hear as we long to get back to “normal.” But there is now a new normal and we need to do our part to keep our communities safe.

Dr. Richard Lane has a Doctor of Medicine degree from the University of Maryland, School of Medicine and a Master of Public Health and Tropical Medicine degree from Tulane University, School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. He is licensed as a physician and surgeon in the Commonwealth of Virginia and has recently retired. He has been a reasoned voice in disseminating information from a science perspective, has years of experience working with infectious disease, and is a person of faith.

Reopening America: What we need to know