As states across Australia begin to slowly grapple COVID-19 and control new outbreaks that threaten our major cities, infection prevention measures have become paramount.
The rise of contagions has seen the increased use of face mask across communities nationwide, with Melbourne enforcing mandatory mask use in public spaces. Health professionals say that there is strong evidence to support face mask practice as a successful way to reduce coronavirus transmission and save lives but why were we initially told otherwise?
To wear or not wear a mask?
Early in the pandemic, the World Health Organisation and the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention instilled confusion amongst the public, stating face mask use wasn’t necessary. This advice related to the limited supply of surgical masks and the grave concern that these should be preserved for health care workers. Both organisations have since been quick to reverse this original instruction saying that the more people wearing masks, the better.
Despite these initial recommendations, several countries encouraged mask use by the public early in their outbreak, with such countries experiencing lower coronavirus-related mortality. In Australia, public surveys indicated that 10% wore a mask by March 15, with mask wearing gradually increasing and reaching a high point of 27% by April 19. A period significantly earlier before the World Health Organisation reversed course and recommended wearing masks by general populations on June 5th, 2020.
UC San Francisco epidemiologist George Rutherford, MD, stated that ‘there was the legitimate concern that the limited supply of surgical masks and N95 respirators should be saved for health care workers. We should have told people to wear cloth masks right off the bat.”
How does wearing a face mask prevent COVID-19 transmission?
In one study, researchers predicted that 80% of the population wearing masks would do more to reduce coronavirus spread than a strict lockdown. Face masks make for an effective barrier to protect those who have COVID-19 from giving the virus to other people, preventing larger expelled droplets from evaporating into smaller droplets that can travel farther.
The silent danger of COVID-19 transmitting unknowingly was stressed by infectious disease specialist Peter Chin-Hong, MD who said, ‘that the viral load peaks in the days before symptoms begin so there is a lot of asymptotic infection, everybody has to wear a mask.’
But if you’re practicing social distancing, do you still technically need to wear a mask? The answer is yes. Chin-Hong uses the ‘Three W’s’ to ward off COVID-19:’ Wear a mask, wash your hands, and watch your distance.
‘But of the three, the most important thing is wearing a mask. Compared to wearing a mask, cleaning your iPhone or wiping down your groceries are just distractors. There’s little evidence that contaminated surfaces are a major source of transmission, whereas there is a lot of evidence of transmission through inhaled droplets,’ Chin-Hong said.
Gienic Face Masks
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