On Your Side: Answering questions, dispelling latest rumors about masks


KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Not everyone likes wearing masks, but healthcare professionals they are necessary to help limit the spread of COVID-19.

Similar to when masks were first required, rumors have started to pop up again around the face coverings and upper respiratory infections we usually see this time of year.

Sarah Bachor, a Physician’s Assistant with Summit Express Clinics, helps navigate what’s actually going on locally, at least what she’s seeing through the clinics.

People might have heard recently about an uptick of strep throat cases being linked to wearing masks, especially dirty or wet masks.

Bachor said the truth is actually the opposite.

“Here in the past couple of weeks, I’m seeing a surprisingly low case of strep counts. I actually can’t recall in the past couple of weeks when I’ve had a positive strep last,” Bachor said.

Bachor said in fact, at Summit Express Clinics, the number of respiratory cases have been down overall, including the flu.

“Which, as everybody knows, is a little bit unusual for this area for us to not be seeing an uptick of flu cases at this point,” Bachor said.

Bachor said they are still testing for the flu and strep, along with other respiratory illnesses, amid the COVID-19 pandemic; so it’s not like lack of testing is the reason behind fewer cases.

Instead, Bachor said wearing masks, along with all the other COVID-19 safety precautions, are most likely the reasons for fewer cases.

“Everybody has been very aware of frequent hand washing, the use of hand sanitizer. They have been very aware of cleaning their surfaces, things of that nature,” Bachor said.

“Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re seeing more patients be more hyper-aware of their symptoms and staying home when they’re not feeling well,” Bachor continued.

As far as dirty masks, Bachor said she goes back to what they’ve learned about personal hygiene products.

“Any sort of household or common personal hygiene item can give you an infection like strep. So, I wouldn’t go ahead and say it’s a dirty mask per say, because we know things like toothbrushes can prolong or potentiate an infection like that,” Bachor said.

She said that’s why healthcare professionals tell patients who have strep to trash their toothbrush two days after taking antibiotics.

“Your toothbrush can give you strep throat if you continue to use a toothbrush that’s inoculated with strep,” Bachor said.

She said like many other personal hygiene items, clean is always better.

“Clean masks, again emphasis on the clean, is important for them to be as effective as possible,” Bachor said.

What if you’ve already had and recovered from COVID-19?

Bachor recommends those people should continue wearing masks, give that we continue to learn about COVID-19 every day.

According to the American Hospital Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it’s unclear how long any immunity protection may last, so all are encouraged to continue wearing a mask when out.

Many people have been asking if they will need to continue wearing masks if they’ve received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

According to the CDC, that answer is yes.

“While experts learn more about the protection that COVID-19 vaccines provide under real-life conditions, it will be important for everyone to continue using all the tools available to us to help stop this pandemic, like covering your mouth and nose with a mask, washing hands often, and staying at least 6 feet away from others,” the CDC website stated.

Bachor said the actions healthcare professionals have been asking people to take to limit the spread of COVID-19, minus the masks, has always been the way to prevent most upper respiratory infections from spreading.

“Yes, we’re seeing a decrease throughout the Summit Express Clinics in strep and flu cases, but it’s still early on in the flu season, so it’s really important to stick with it, and hang in there, and we hope to see these number continue,” Bachor said.

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