How masks protected the clients of 2 COVID-19-positive hairstylists

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Two hairstylists in Missouri continued going to work for several days this spring with symptoms of the coronavirus before testing positive for COVID-19. They did hair for 139 clients during that time. But they and their clients all wore masks, and none of the customers went on to develop symptoms, according to a new report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The study is “very promising,” Dr. Ron Elfenbein, an emergency care physician in Maryland, said Monday on CBSN. “It shows again what I’ve been saying and we’ve been talking about every week now, essentially, is that masks help. Masks work. We know it. There’s data for it, and this is a great study to show that.”

The salon, in Springfield, Missouri, was following city ordinance that restricted seating in waiting areas to 25% of normal capacity and recommended social distancing and use of face coverings for employees and clients.

Both stylists wore a double-layered cotton face covering or a surgical mask while working with clients, the report said. They interacted with each other while one was symptomatic without masks during periods between clients. Clients reported wearing either cloth face coverings, surgical masks, or N95 respirators.

Of the 139 clients, 67 were tested for COVID-19 and all were negative. The others declined to get tested, but none reported developing symptoms, according to the report.

Elfenbein admitted that is “one of the limitations” of the study.

“They could possibly have been asymptomatic,” he said. “But they didn’t report for testing. They were offered testing. They chose not to be tested.”

Another limitation is that none of the clients who saw the stylists before they were symptomatic were contacted, even though “viral shedding is at its highest during the 2 to 3 days before symptom onset,” the CDC said.

Still, the CDC said the report provides more evidence that face coverings can help reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

“Both company and city policies were likely important factors in preventing the spread of SARS-CoV-2 during these interactions between clients and stylists,” the CDC said in the report.

“CDC recommends workplace policies regarding use of face coverings for employees and clients in addition to daily monitoring of signs and symptoms of employees, procedures for screening employees who arrive with or develop symptoms at work, and posted messages to inform and educate employees and clients.”

Elfenbein reiterated the importance of wearing masks properly over your mouth and nose.

“You don’t have to wear it in your house. When you’re around other people, just put the mask on and wear it properly. It’s not that big a deal,” he said.

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