HARLINGEN — With Halloween around the corner, many kids are thinking about masks.

But masks have taken on a whole new role this year. Instead of serving to scare people at Halloween parties or trick or treating, they’re now saving lives.

The COVID-19 pandemic has compelled everyone to wear face masks to prevent infection, and some people have questioned which masks are most effective. More specifically, some wonder if cloth masks are any good.

However, Dr. Christopher Romero, internal medicine specialist at Valley Baptist Medical Center, said cloth masks work well to prevent the spread of COVID-19. He referred to the Emerging Infectious Disease journal released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“There were studies years ago on how simple cloth masks are a viable option for public health measures to reduce the spread of respiratory infections,” he said. “It’s really easy to get out in the weeds as to which are more effective than not. The most effective mask is the one that people are wearing and they wear consistently.”

Romero said masks fall into two categories according to who’s wearing them. One category relates specifically to Personal Protective Equipment for health care workers providing direct care to COVID-19 patients.

“For those health care workers we are still utilizing N95 respirator masks as the primary means of protection from exposure in COVID-positive patients or patients under investigation,” he said. “For the general population the simple masked face coverings go a long way at reducing the community transmission and spread of this virus.”

The greater the number of people wearing masks, the greater chance of reducing infection rates.

“If I’m wearing a mask and we’re in a room, and assuming it’s a simple cloth face covering, I’m going a long way toward protecting you from any droplets that may risk infecting you with COVID,” he said. “If you wear a mask then the same protection is conveyed to me.”

While some have resisted the very idea of face masks, others have embraced it and taken it a step further, even donning face shields.

“I’m not going to knock it,” he said. “It’s not a bad idea. They’re not hurting anybody and they’re definitely going to be protecting their eyes, which is another mucous membrane. It reduces the risk of any droplets from landing on the mask or getting inhaled from around it even more.”

He might wear one himself if he had health issues that put him at greater risk.

“If I was immunocompromised from underlying cancer or uncontrolled diabetes or anything like that it’s definitely something that I would consider,” he said of face shields.

He emphasized, however, that neither masks nor face shields are 100 percent effective against COVID-19. While wearing masks, people should also follow other safety guidelines, such as social distancing and washing hands.

“If I’m wearing a mask, and the other individual is wearing a mask, I still try and maintain physical distance as much as possible just to continue to reduce that risk to both of us as much as I can,” he said.

Romero has speculated that even after therapeutics and vaccines have brought COVID-19 under control, some safety measures may remain in place to prevent the spread of disease in general.

Dr. Ameer Hassan, head of the neuroscience department at Valley Baptist, has pointed out that the Japanese have been wearing face masks for years to prevent the spread of the cold, flu and other diseases. Thus, Japan’s rate of COVID-19 infection has been low.