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To mask or not to mask?

By DR. EDUARDO GONZALES

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No guideline to prevent the spread of Covid-19 has been more contentious than that of wearing a face mask. The controversy was the offshoot of the opposing pronouncements of public health experts during the first few weeks of this pandemic. On the one hand, pro-mask experts contend that a face mask is an effective physical barrier that prevents droplets released by an infected person’s cough, sneeze, or exhalation from reaching you because it catches most and disperses some of the droplets away from you. Anti-mask experts, on the other hand, contend that a face mask only minimally prevents the spread of the disease while it irritates and makes you touch your face often, which is contrary to the generally accepted guideline of not touching your face, nose, mouth, and eyes.  A mask also makes breathing difficult. It likewise invariably gets soiled with sweat, saliva, and nasal secretion converting it to a fertile ground for the growth of germs, aside from fogging your glasses. The World Health Organization (WHO) added credence to the anti-masks arguments because it advised people not to wear masks unless they are sick.

So, what’s the verdict?

Weeks into the pandemic, science has seemingly settled the issue, or has it? Current data clearly show that wearing a mask reduces the odds of being infected with the disease. Even the WHO, in its advisory dated April 6, acknowledged that wearing a medical mask is one of the prevention measures that can limit the spread of certain respiratory viral diseases, including Covid-19.

But a face mask alone is not enough to prevent its spread. As the WHO also stated in its advisory, “a mask alone is insufficient to provide an adequate level of protection, and other measures should also be adopted.” This is a sentiment that is unanimously echoed by public health experts.

A mask will not make you invincible to the disease, so even if you wear one, do not be lulled into a false sense of security. There is data that shows people become reckless and act like things are back to normal when they think they are protected. That’s why you see videos of people wearing masks mingling with each other without observing the rules of social distancing. If you want to be fully protected, always be conscious of the other things you need to do aside from wearing a mask. Don’t ever drop your guard.

Incidentally, cognizant of the fact that “the use of medical masks in the community may create a false sense of security, with neglect of other essential measures,” the WHO still does not endorse the wearing of masks by healthy persons in the wider community setting, including universal community masking. It insists that masks should be reserved for healthcare workers. In the Philippines, however, you have to wear a mask in public, because it is mandatory.

What you need to do aside from wearing a mask

The virus is transmitted mainly through respiratory droplets and contact. Respiratory droplets are produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or simply exhales. Any person who is in close contact (within one meter) with a Covid-19 positive person is at risk of being exposed to infective respiratory droplets. Droplets may also land on surfaces where the virus could remain viable. Thus, touching contaminated surfaces can serve as a source of transmission (i.e., if you touch the surface and then touch your face, nose, mouth, or eyes afterward). Hence, to completely protect yourself from the disease, whether you’re wearing a mask or not, you should observe the following measures prescribed by the WHO:

• Avoid groups of people and enclosed, crowded spaces.

• Maintain a physical distance of at least one meter from other persons, in particular from those with respiratory symptoms such as coughing or sneezing.

• Perform hand hygiene frequently, using an alcohol-based hand rub if hands are not visibly dirty, or soap and water when hands are visibly dirty.

• Cover your nose and mouth with a bent elbow or paper tissue when coughing or sneezing. Dispose of the tissue immediately after use.

• Refrain from touching their mouth, nose, and eyes.


Source: Manila Bulletin (https://lifestyle.mb.com.ph/2020/06/16/to-mask-or-not-to-mask/)

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