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Healthwise Maui

Q: Is COVID-19 more dangerous than the flu?

Chrissy Miller, Employee Health Manager, Maui Health: Yes, COVID-19 is much more dangerous than the flu.

Some people still believe that COVID-19 is not a serious disease, but it is. Even though COVID and influenza share some similar symptoms, COVID-19 is much more dangerous.

For one thing, it’s much more contagious. It spreads more easily from person to person, including through airborne transmission. It can take longer for people to start showing symptoms, meaning they can spread the disease for days without knowing they have it. They also stay contagious for longer with COVID-19 than they do with the flu.

COVID-19 is also more likely to cause severe illness and complications and is also more likely to be fatal.

While the CDC estimates as many as 62,000 people died from flu complications last year, at least 232,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the eight months since the pandemic started.

Maybe most importantly, COVID-19 is a new disease. We don’t yet have a vaccine to prevent it, and treatments are still limited. We do have a vaccine to help prevent influenza, as well as effective treatments to reduce the chances of complications.

The bottom line is, COVID-19 is a very serious and dangerous disease, and we need to take it seriously. The most effective way to protect yourself and slow the spread of this virus is to stay home when possible, avoid gatherings, stay six feet apart from people not in your household, wear a mask when you’re in public and wash your hands frequently.

Q: Do masks really work to prevent COVID-19? Which works best, cloth masks or medical masks?

Kelly Catiel, Infection Control Manager, Maui Health: Yes, masks help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The science is clear, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other governing health agencies recommend that most people over the age of 2 wear a mask to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Cloth and medical masks both meet this recommendation and work by containing the respiratory droplets of the wearer. This prevention measure helps to stop the spread of COVID-19 from a positive individual, symptomatic or asymptomatic, to those around them. Cloth and medical masks catch and contain the respiratory droplets of an infected person who sneezes, coughs, sings or even laughs loudly, allowing for most of the virus-containing droplets to be caught by the mask and not spread to surfaces or those around them.

Multilayer cloth masks do provide an adequate level of protection in a community setting by attempting to contain the source and protecting the wearer. This is why masks work best when everybody wears them, not just those at high risk. Current studies have shown that while medical masks do have a higher level of filtration, cloth masks are still acceptable to be worn if you are out and about in public places like the grocery store.

Health experts recommend that cloth masks be at least 2 layers thick and worn over the mouth and nose while secured under your chin to provide adequate source control. The CDC does not recommend masks with vents or exhalation valves or using a face shield as a substitute for a face masks as neither of these devices is effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19.

Because a cloth mask has not been designed and proven to be equally effective as a medical mask or N95 respirators, health experts and government agencies continue to recommend appropriate use of medical-grade masks and respirators while in the health care setting.

At all Maui Health facilities, employees, providers, patients and any of the limited visitors are provided with a medical-grade mask before entering the building. Some employees in nonclinical settings do also choose to wear a cloth mask under their medical mask.

Here at Maui Health, we want to take the time to remind and urge our community to degerm your hands frequently, observe social distancing recommendations, and follow our Maui County mask mandate and wear a mask any time you are out in public, or even if needed in your own home if you have guests from outside your household.

Wearing a mask is a very crucial prevention measure and we need everyone to be accountable to help stop the spread of COVID-19. For more information on the current Maui County mask mandate, visit mauicounty.gov.

* Physicians, providers and administrative staff who practice at Maui Health System hospitals and clinics answer questions from the public in “Healthwise Maui,” which appears on the first and third Thursdays of the month. Maui Health System operates Maui Memorial Medical Center, Maui Memorial Medical Center Outpatient Clinic, Kula Hospital & Clinic and Lana’i Community Hospital and accepts all patients. To submit a question, go to the website at mauihealth.org/healthwise.

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