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Experts Say Face Masks Can Help Stop COVID-19. OH Really?

photo of CDC mask recommendations
The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention says that even cloth masks afford more protection than wearing nothing. And when used in conjunction with a clear face shield, a practice used by many medical professionals, they are even more effective.

As some of Ohio’s nonessential businesses reopen, you’ve still got questions about how coronavirus will affect everything from mortgages to license plates.

This week, our first question is about car registrations. The state temporarily closed all but five Bureaus of Motor Vehicles in March. The ones still open are handling mostly Commercial Driver’s Licenses.

Vehicle registrations and renewals are being handled either online or by car dealerships, with tags being sent in the mail. So what should people do while they wait for their tags, if they have to drive around with expired tags?

Summit County Sherriff’s Inspector Bill Holland says they received documentation on March 18 telling them to give an exemption to people whose plates had expired on or after that date. But if someone has a warrant for their arrest, or if a car is entered as stolen, that’s a separate issue. People will also receive a letter about the exemption, stating that they can carry it with them to show to law enforcement.

A mortgage for the future
Our next question is about how mortgages are being impacted by the CARES Act. Homeowners can have mortgage payments reduced or suspended for up to 12 months, depending on the situation.

At PNC Bank, for example, they have a forbearance option available that allows residential customers to stop payments for up to three months with no late fees. At the end of the program, the total amount will still be due, but they have a few different options available for a customer to pay back the amount.

Those include a payment plan or moving the payments to the end of their loan term. People should talk to their lender to figure out a specific plan of action that fits their situation. In some cases, if you do take advantage of forbearance, there’s a potential wrinkle down the line. Ohio Mortgage Bankers Association Executive Director Jay Pascoe explains.

“If you can make your mortgage payment, make your mortgage payment.  The impact, down the line [is]: if you want to refinance at the end of your forbearance period, you have to wait one year until that comes off your record.  It doesn’t impact your credit, but it’s out there.”

Do we need masks?
Based on the number of questions we’re getting, confusion remains about mask wearing. When the state first introduced reopening procedures they used the phrase, “No mask, no work, no service, no exception.” The governor then amended the plan, saying employees would be required to wear masks but making it mandatory for customers was, he said, going “too far.”

So what are the recommendations or requirements regarding mask-wearing in Ohio?

Employees are required to wear masks. For customers it’s a recommendation. Kent State health professor Tara Smith, an epidemiologist who studies infectious diseases, explains why masks are useful.

“What masks do is if you wear them consistently--they’re not perfect—but what they do is help to keep your droplets inside the mask," Smith said. "And so you’re not necessarily protecting yourself, but you’re protecting others from your droplets. So in this case, employees are required to wear masks so they’re helping to protect the customers, but if the customers come in without masks then they’re potentially spreading their droplets to employees and to other customers who may be in the building at the same time.”

Listener Walter Fortney says he’s been out at retailers where he’s seen workers and customers without masks. The state has said employees can go without if they have a valid reason like they can’t do their job with a mask on or it’s unsafe or there are health reasons for them not to wear one. But Prof. Smith says for most of us, a mask can only help.

“It’s a really simple intervention. Just put a mask on. You may be protecting your neighbor. You may be protecting your neighbor’s grandma from getting this," Smith said. "I mean I just don’t understand the resistance to this as an intervention. It’s really simple, really easy and could really help stem spread of the virus and help us get back to some semblance of normal.”

One listener from Hudson wonders if the face shields we’ve been seeing can be as effective as a mask when worn by itself.  A team at Case Western Reserve University that’s making the clear face shields said the shield is of much less value when it’s not worn with a mask.

State Health Department Director Dr. Amy Acton suggests looking at face masks as one of the things we can do to keep each other safe. “We follow traffic laws, we wear our seat belts now. We do a lot of things that we’ve grown to do that we weren’t used to. This should be one of those things and it really will make a difference.”

The circling buzzards?
Our last question this week comes from Jim Gordon, who lives in Yorktown, Virginia, but grew up in Wayne County. He asked this week about the annual Day of the Buzzards in Hinckley?

That’s usually March 15, when bird watchers flock to Medina County to see the buzzards return to this area. It’s been happening since the 1950s, except this year, of course. It was scheduled just as the lockdown began and was canceled.

Right now you might be able to visit the Cleveland Metroparks’ Buzzard Roost in Hinckley and see what are actually turkey vultures.

Keep sending in your questions, and we’ll keep answering them. You can record your question in the WKSU app, or submit it here.  We also have the latest information on coronavirus here.


Kabir Bhatia is a senior reporter for Ideastream Public Media's arts & culture team.