COVID-19 Communications

Wearing a mask is a public duty

Jun 25, 2020, 16:02 PM by Stephen Hadley

As those of us in health care know, COVID-19 is advancing rapidly throughout our region and state. We must all act now—and continue to act—to lessen the threat to our communities. This means setting a good example regarding social distancing, hand hygiene, self-isolating when ill and wearing masks in public spaces, both at work and on our personal time.

We must also serve as advocates for good public health practices. To that end, I have submitted the following message to area newspapers to help educate everyone on the importance of masks and other safety measures:

Wearing a mask is a public duty

You wouldn’t drive a nail with a screwdriver or flip a steak with a garden hose. Having the right tool for the job makes all the difference—and right now, the latest research and evidence points to masks being the tool we need to slow the spread of COVID-19.

We are seeing a real and marked increase in COVID-19 in our region and other parts of Texas. Not only are case numbers up, but the percentage of tests coming back positive is up significantly. The uptick is concerning, and cities and counties across the state are issuing masking requirements in response. We at UTMB applaud these efforts and have made masks mandatory for employees, students, patients and guests on our campuses and in our clinics.

Are masks a silver bullet against COVID-19? No. But they are a useful and effective tool we can add, alongside social distancing, frequent and thorough handwashing, and self-isolation when ill.

There may be some confusion because early in the pandemic, health agencies and our own experts recommended that the public not wear masks. There were concerns that masks were ineffective, that they would not be worn properly and therefore increase exposure to the virus, and that there were not enough masks available for frontline health care workers.

What’s changed? Hospitals have shored up their stocks of PPE, there is more education and awareness about proper mask wearing, and—most importantly—we know more about how COVID-19 spreads. Scientists at UTMB and around the world have been working tirelessly to better understand this virus. The latest research plainly shows that even homemade masks prevent its spread.

Thanks to recently published studies, we now know that respiratory droplets from infected individuals—even from those who show no symptoms or have yet to show symptoms—are the main route the virus is transmitted between people. Droplets can come from coughing, sneezing, talking or even just breathing.

Masks are the first line of defense as they help people keep their droplets to themselves. A mask also prevents those droplets from dispersing into smaller, aerosolized particles that can float and linger in the air for a longer period of time.

Research shows just how important wearing a mask can be. One national study found that not wearing a face mask dramatically increased a person’s chances of being infected. A separate computer forecasting model found that if 80 percent of people wear masks, infection rates would plummet.

As we face increased community spread of COVID-19, mask wearing makes economic sense. We all want to keep our economy open and functioning. We can continue to enjoy and support local businesses safely, if we are careful about hygiene and social distancing and if we all wear masks.

Most importantly, wearing a mask can protect someone you know and love. It takes only one person in a household getting infected to bring the virus back home, potentially infecting an elderly or immunocompromised member of the family. A maskless outing to a store, restaurant or party is not worth putting mom or dad, grandma or grandpa, in the hospital.

Wearing a mask in public is a low-risk, high-reward step we can all take to help stop the spread of COVID-19. There has been a lot of debate about personal freedom in relation to masks, but perhaps what is missing is a conversation about personal responsibility.

We each have responsibility for supporting public health in our communities—to take care of ourselves and each other. Fortunately, research confirms that we all have simple tools for combatting COVID-19. Keep our (physical) distance. Stay home and isolated from others if we are ill. Wash our hands—more often than we think we need to. And wear a mask!

I wanted to share the guest column text with you, so you can likewise help educate your families, friends and neighbors. Lives and livelihoods depend on us all working together to combat COVID-19. Thank you for your efforts and take care of yourself!

Ben G. Raimer, MD, MA, FAAP
President ad interim

COVID-19 General FAQs


Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). The novel coronavirus, now known as Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans.

While COVID-19 causes only mild illness in some infected individuals, it may cause serious lower respiratory infection leading to hospitalization and even death.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers this factsheet highlighting important information you should know about Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-10).

Last modified on 3/16/2020

  • Stay home unless you need medical care
  • Separate yourself from other people and animals in your home
  • Call ahead before visiting a clinic
  • Wear a mask
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes
  • Clean your hands often
  • Avoid sharing personal household items
  • Clean all “high touch” surfaces every day
  • Monitor your symptoms

Last modified on 3/10/2020

  • Patients with symptoms of respiratory illness, including cough, fever or shortness of breath, should contact the UTMB Health Access Center at (800) 917-8906 to speak with our 24/7 nurse hotline.
  • The nurse hotline will advise the patient on what to do next, including the most appropriate clinic location for evaluation if needed.
  • Patients should follow provider recommendations for testing, self-isolation and management of symptoms.
  • Any patient experiencing a worsening of symptoms—particularly shortness of breath—a few days after first becoming ill should contact the Access Center IMMEDIATELY.
  • To keep our patients and employees safe, UTMB tests our patients for COVID-19 in advance of any procedure or hospital admission. 
  • You may also wish to check with your local county health officials for testing available through local government. In Galveston County, Health District testing information is online.

Please note: Our process and procedures may be updated as the COVID-19 situation develops in our region.

Last modified on 4/29/2020

This is one of the topics that remains under study; it's still not certain exactly how long the virus that causes COVID-19 survives on surfaces. According to the World Health Organization, studies suggest that coronaviruses (including preliminary information on the COVID-19 virus) may persist on surfaces for a few hours or up to several days (at one point nine days was mentioned, which the latest studies suggest may be unlikely). Survival of the virus will vary under different conditions, including type of surface, temperature, humidity and moisture, exposure to sunlight, and other factors.

If you think a surface may be infected, clean it with simple disinfectant to kill the virus and protect yourself and others. Wash your hands with soap and water or clean them with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Avoid touching your eyes, mouth, or nose. 

Last modified on 3/14/2020

There are no plans for UTMB to serve as a general quarantine facility in the case of an outbreak in our area. As always, we are prepared to care for patients who need hospitalization due to COVID-19 or any illness.

Last modified on 3/12/2020

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.

If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.

Last modified on 3/5/2020

Reported illnesses have ranged from mild symptoms to severe illness and death for confirmed coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases.

Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure. Common symptoms of COVID-19 are:

  • a dry cough,
  • fever of 100.4 F or higher, and
  • shortness of breath.

Any time a member of your household has a fever (whether flu, COVID-19 or another illness), they should stay home until they’ve been fever-free for 24 hours. If at any time you have concerns about any symptoms you or your family is experiencing, call your doctor.

Last modified on 3/10/2020

COVID-19 is a new disease and we are still learning how it spreads, the severity of illness it causes and to what extent it may spread in the United States.

The virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person.

  • Between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet).
  • Through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.

Last modified on 3/5/2020

  • People are thought to be most contagious when they are most symptomatic (the sickest).
  • Some spread might be possible before people show symptoms; there have been reports of this occurring with this new coronavirus, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.

Last modified on 3/5/2020

It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.

How easily a virus spreads from person-to-person can vary. Some viruses are highly contagious (spread easily), like measles, while other viruses do not spread as easily. Another factor is whether the spread is sustained, spreading continually without stopping.

The virus that causes COVID-19 seems to be spreading easily and sustainably in the community (“community spread”) in some affected geographic areas.

Community spread means people have been infected with the virus in an area, including some who are not sure how or where they became infected.

Last modified on 3/16/2020

At this time, patients testing positive for COVID-19 who have mild symptoms, are not over age 60 and do not have an underlying medical condition are advised to isolate at home. If a patient with COVID-19 is concerned, begins to experience shortness of breath, starts feeling worse a week or so into the illness, is over age 60 or has an underlying medical condition, they are strongly encouraged to call their doctor or the UTMB Access Center at (800) 917-8906 to speak with our 24/7 nurse hotline.

Last modified on 3/16/2020

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