Dr. Ed Lifshitz, the state’s medical director of communicable disease service, acknowledges that face coverings can be a pain — especially when it comes to wearing them over your nose. Thursday afternoon, he explained why it can help people from getting COVID-19.
In the process, it offered Gov. Phil Murphy a scientific reason for delaying the opening of smaller businesses.
In the most basic of terms, you have to come in contact with the virus to get it. And, while that most frequently will happen with what he called a large droplet — something released from a cough or sneeze — it can happen with a smaller sample, including something a person may release from simply talking.
“Smaller particles are also coming out,” Lifshitz said. “They’re coming out every time anybody speaks, they’re coming out more so if you’re singing or shouting — they’re also coming out just from your breathing.”
Here’s the catch. While bigger particles go to the ground pretty quickly — and pose an issue because they are on surfaces — smaller particles can remain airborne.
“Some of those smaller particles, particularly ones that tend to be generated from things like speaking, may last in the air for longer periods of time and may be able to float in the air longer,” he said. “Exactly how much of that happens with the virus that causes COVID versus other viruses isn’t known for sure.
“And we still believe that the major means of transmission is through those bigger droplets, but it is believed that at least some of this illness is likely caused by some of these viruses that are floating in the air for longer periods of time.”
That’s why people need to wear face coverings over their mouth and nose, Lifshitz said.
“The nose has to be covered,” he said. “We understand that it’s uncomfortable, we understand that people have problems with glasses fogging up, understand it’s difficult to see your feet and you have to worry about tripping over things and that sort of issue and it’s not easy.
“But, if you’re not covering your nose and you’re breathing through your nose, obviously you’re expelling articles through your nose and that’s better than coughing and other sort of stuff, but it’s not doing what it should be doing.”
Especially in small settings, he said.
“That becomes more of an issue the closer people are together, particularly indoors, where the air isn’t circulating,” he said. “The best way to get rid of the virus is to have a breeze or something to blow it away, and it’s why it becomes even more important to try to maintain social distancing and to continue to wear the face coverings while you’re around other people.”
Murphy said this is rationale for his thinking around keeping so many small businesses closed.
“I want to gyms open as much as anyone in this state, if not this planet, but there’s a difference between the way I’m speaking now and — as you suggested —singing, shouting, breathing heavily, grunting — whatever that might be associated with running on a treadmill or lifting weights or whatever,” he said. “We’re not making this stuff up, this is real.”