I had nothing but praise for AllCare Health's generosity in offering free face masks to local residents as protection against recent smoke in our area. What I'm wondering is, why wasn't Jackson County Health and Human Services doing it, since that's the local government entity charged with protecting public health?
— Steve D., Medford
Those masks, specifically the N95 or P100 models, can offer respiratory protection from wildfire smoke, Steve, but only if they are tested for a correct fit and worn the right way. Dust and surgical masks, along with bandanas, don't ever do the trick.
The county did not offer such masks because those that don't fit or are worn the wrong way can give wearers "a false sense of security," according to Jackson Baures, the county's public health division manager.
Because of that, the Oregon Health Authority did not recommend them for the general public, he added. An ill-fitting mask or one that's worn incorrectly can still let in the smoke.
"Although we weren't recommending masks for the general population, we did put out information about the proper use of masks should people choose to wear them," Baures said in an email.
An OHA document said selecting the correct size can be difficult, and respirators able to filter out harmful particulates are not available in children's sizes. Other factors such as facial hair can also cause the masks to not seal correctly.
County public health officials instead recommended that residents limit their exposure to outside air, and to keep it circulating if possible.
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