Healthy Habits Corner

Representatives from the Village of Wilmette, Wilmette Park District, and School Districts #37 and #39 have partnered to help support and  promote the Healthy Habits initiative. This initiative aims to educate our community and promote practicing healthy habits during the COVID-19 crisis.


Why are masks so important?
Masks significantly reduce the risk of transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. We now know that masks reduce the risk for both the person wearing the mask and for those around them. For the person wearing the mask, the risk of inhaling droplets that contain virus is reduced because the droplets get trapped in the fibers of the mask. And because masks contain droplets breathed out by the wearer, the risk that the person wearing the mask will spread the virus to others without knowing it is also reduced.

Because face masks do not block all viral droplets, we must combine masks with social distancing (maintaining a distance of at least 6 feet) and frequent hand-washing in order to significantly reduce the risk of viral transmission.

Someone with coronavirus is contagious for at least a couple of days before they begin to show symptoms. Furthermore, some people never show symptoms at all, but can still transmit the virus to others and make others very sick, even if they never feel sick themselves. That’s why we must assume that anyone, including ourselves, could be contagious, and take the proper precautions – wearing a mask AND maintaining distance.

What exactly counts as an exposure?
A true exposure is defined as spending 15 minutes or longer within 6 feet of someone with coronavirus, and the risk is much higher if one or both people are not wearing a mask. The 15 minutes is actually a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period starting from 2 days before illness onset (or 2 days prior to testing if the person is asymptomatic); it does not have to be 15 consecutive minutes.

What happens if I have an exposure to someone with coronavirus?
Call your doctor. If you have a true exposure to someone with coronavirus, current CDC guidelines specify that you must quarantine for 14 days. Even if you test negative for coronavirus after the exposure, you must quarantine for 14 days. This is because this virus has a long incubation period and people can get sick and transmit the virus up to 14 days after exposure. For example, even if you test negative 1 week after exposure, you could still get sick 10 or 12 days after exposure and transmit the virus to others even though you had a negative test on day 7. This is why you must quarantine for a full 14 days.

How can I prevent having an exposure and therefore having to quarantine for 14 days?
As you can see, having to quarantine is extremely disruptive to daily life – no work, no school, no outings for 14 days! Luckily, there’s a simple way to avoid a high risk exposure and significantly reduce your risk of contracting COVID-19 or unknowingly spreading it to others – WEAR A MASK, WATCH YOUR DISTANCE, AND WASH YOUR HANDS! If you are gathering at the park, on the sidelines of a game, in your backyard or in any other setting with people who are not part of your own household, wear a mask, maintain at least 6 feet of distance and wash or sanitize your hands frequently. If you are eating and therefore must remove your mask, it is especially important that you are at least 6 feet apart and wash your hands before and after eating. That way, if someone later tests positive for coronavirus, your risk is lower, and depending on the circumstances, you may not need to quarantine for 14 days. This is because masks and distancing together significantly reduce the likelihood of acquiring or transmitting the virus.

When should I wear my mask?
Anytime you leave your house and will be around people outside your household. You still need to wear a mask and maintain at least 6 feet of distance even if you are gathering with friends or family outdoors. While being outside reduces the risk of transmission compared to being inside, there is still a significant risk if you are near someone who has the virus.

We are doing a great job of avoiding large gatherings, and wearing our masks and keeping our distance in schools and businesses around Wilmette and therefore people are not contracting the virus in these settings. The majority of the viral spread that we are seeing now is occurring in small gatherings of people from different households (friends, family, neighbors). We must remember that the risk is no less in our own backyards and homes and when we gather with people outside of our own households, and we need to be vigilant about following the same precautions in these settings too.

Be sure to consult with your physician about any potential exposure or symptoms. There are many nuances to every situation, and guidelines and knowledge are evolving quickly.


This page was published on 11/6/2020.