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Wisconsin National Guard volunteers Marissa Steffens, left, and Kanada Vang wore masks as they processed absentee ballots in April at Spirit Lutheran Church in Eau Claire. View more photos at LeaderTelegramPhotos.com.

Wearing a cloth face mask will decrease, but not eliminate, the risk of someone transmitting COVID-19 to another person. Chippewa Valley health officials on Monday urged people to wear tightly-woven fabric coverings over both the nose and mouth when in close quarters with others.

The renewed call for mask-wearing comes days after the Eau Claire City-County Health Department mandated county businesses consider face mask policies.

There’s “overwhelming data” that masks cut down on the spread of respiratory droplets, which leave someone’s mouth when they talk, sing, laugh, sneeze or cough, said Lieske Giese, director of the Health Department. The same respiratory droplets appear as mist when someone exhales in cold weather.

The CDC has said the coronavirus spreads mainly when an infected person expels respiratory droplets that “land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby and can possibly be inhaled into the lungs.”

It’s less clear if masks can directly protect the wearer, filtering out others’ respiratory droplets, Giese said. But the CDC has said mask-wearing helps control community spread in a broader sense: “Wearing a cloth face covering will help protect people around you, including those at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 and workers who frequently come into close contact with other people (e.g., in stores and restaurants),” Giese said.

“My wearing a face mask is a signal I care about the people around me.”

Masks or face coverings should be worn over the nose and mouth and be made of tightly-woven fabric. People shouldn’t wear surgical masks or respirators, including N-95s, according to the CDC — those are “critical supplies” and should be reserved for health care workers at the moment.

But even if masks are worn correctly, the risk of attending gatherings is tricky, Giese said, adding that social distancing and staying six feet apart from others is by far the best way to cut down risk.

“If you only kind of wear (the mask) and use that as a way to think you’re protecting others, but don’t keep physical distance, we’re not in any better of a spot,” she said.

Chippewa County Public Health Director Angela Weideman asked residents to wear masks if possible when in group spaces at work, saying Chippewa County “has seen an increase in COVID-19 cases … associated with people who aren’t socially distancing at work, specifically in break rooms and common spaces.”

The city of Eau Claire is weighing in on the matter, too. Two City Council members proposed a resolution urging residents to wear masks in public, and the resolution is going before the council Tuesday. The Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce has also been part of the discussion, encouraging mask-wearing in a statement last week.

Two new cases were identified in Eau Claire County on Monday, bringing it up to a total of 17 new cases since Friday. Of the county’s 340 total cases, about 235 have recovered, according to county data. Over 10,000 tests in the county have been negative.

Statewide, 494 new cases were confirmed Monday, bringing the state’s total cases to just shy of 37,000. No new deaths were reported Monday, and more than 28,000 people have recovered.

The Health Department’s COVID-19 call center can be reached at 715-831-7425.

Contact: 715-833-9206, sarah.seifert@ecpc.com, @sarahaseifert on Twitter