Experts advise taking mask breaks during this weekend's heat wave

NOW: Experts advise taking mask breaks during this weekend’s heat wave

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- With Friday's heat wave continuing onto the weekend, it begs the question -- how long should people keep their masks on? Doctors say typically heat also impacts virus spread, but how will it impact how COVID-19 is spreading in our community?

Doctors say when temperatures and humidity rise, respiratory virus transmission tends to dip, but that wasn't the case for COVID-19 last summer.

"We still had pretty good transmission, so as it relates to COVID-19, it seems to do a pretty good job in these high heat environments," said Dr. Jeff Pothof, chief quality officer at UW Health.

Even so, experts say this summer COVID-19 spread will likely look different because of current trends and vaccinations.

"Looking at the COVID numbers Friday morning, we are at the lowest infection point that we have been at since March of last year," said Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

"Much better situation this summer than it is last summer, even if COVID-19's ability to physiologically, technically transmit is still preserved," Dr. Pothof says.

Doctors say people should remember to stay hydrated this weekend so they won't have to go to the emergency room during heat waves.

"Most often we see, you know, either dehydration or early signs of heat exhaustion," Dr. Pothof says.

The CDC recommends unvaccinated people continue to wear their masks. 

Experts say while masks are okay to use in the heat, taking a mask break from time to time is not a bad idea, especially if you work in a factory or plant with little to no air conditioning.

"You may find yourself short of breath with the heat and humidity and in workplace settings this is especially important," says Darren Rausch, health officer and director of the Greenfield Health Department.

"It's not gonna build up carbon dioxide or anything that's harmful. I just think sometimes, you know, when it gets warm we breathe a little bit faster, we try to catch our breath a little bit quicker and that's something to be mindful of," adds Dr. Pothof. "You may notice yourself noticing that mask a little bit more frequently and you may need to just slow down a little bit with what you're doing with that mask on."

As a reminder, Dr. Pothof says heat cramps are the first indicator that you may need to get out of the heat and hydrate. He says if your body temperature reaches 103 degrees Fahrenheit, call 911.

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