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Face Masks not a Safe Mark From Contracting COVID-19- Hygiene Guidelines also Critical

Face Masks not a Safe Mark From Contracting COVID-19- Hygiene Guidelines also Critical

A man wearing what appears to be a face-covering carries a rack with peanuts and grater cake assortments, while two masked women busily traverse to their destinations under the coronavirus measures in Mandeville, Manchester on September 9, 2020.

Photo Credit: Terrain Wright

By: Jayda Lunan

The first reported cases of the novel coronavirus came from Wuhan City, China in December 2019. Since then, the spread of the virus has escalated to 29.9 million cases confirmed worldwide to date. Wearing masks to cover the nose and mouth quickly emerged as one of the recommended methods to combat the spread of the virus.

In America, N95 respirators are recommended for health workers, and in their absence, surgical masks. Non-medical masks made from some type of cloth material are what citizens are increasingly wearing in public, either to protect against or to prevent others from, the new coronavirus. In fact, according to the Council on Foreign Relations, more than one hundred countries, including Jamaica, have issued nationwide mask mandates. Still, the practice is not without its pros and cons.

One of the disadvantages is that there is little to no confirmation that masks are reliably in protecting someone from contracting SARS-CoV2, the respiratory virus that causes COVID-19. Without knowing this, many people who wear masks may get a false sense of security and take the precautions that have been proven to prevent the virus, less seriously.

On June 5, 2020, The World Health Organization (WHO) published “Advice on the use of masks in the context of COVID-19,” in which it acknowledged that, “There are currently no studies that have evaluated the effectiveness and potential adverse effects of universal or targeted continuous mask use….” However, studies of influenza-like illnesses, excluding COVID-19, provide evidence that the use of a medical mask can prevent the spread of infectious droplets from an infected person with symptoms to someone else.

The WHO stated that people can infect themselves with the virus if they adjust their masks with contaminated hands – and a person will likely want to adjust their masks at some point when they are in a hot or humid environment. The risk of contamination from face masks also exists if the mask is not changed when it gets wet, soiled or damaged.

In some people, frequent mask-wearing can develop or worsen skin conditions like irritant dermatitis or worsening acne. For others, wearing a mask for long hours is a drawback simply because it can be uncomfortable.

Even with the current lack of evidence, potential discomfort and other negative consequences, the majority of the WHO COVID-19 members support the practice of continuous mask-wearing for health workers and caregivers and people in areas with high virus transmission rates but, “Whether or not masks are used, compliance with hand hygiene, physical distancing and other infection prevention and control (IPC) measures are critical to prevent human-to-human transmission of COVID-19,” they caution.

It reasons that people who are willing to wear masks as a precaution are likely to be conscious of, and compliant with the other COVID-19 guidelines. In addition, seeing others in public in masks is a constant reminder of the serious pandemic the world is currently facing.

Following an article written in the European Journal of Medical Research on this subject, wearing a non-medical mask comes with the benefit of a small reduction in the risk of exposure to the virus-loaded droplets of infected persons – even those who are not displaying symptoms. This is especially important in situations where sufficient physical distancing is not feasible, such as public transportation.

The WHO offers guidance on the correct use and disposal of face masks. It involves performing proper hand hygiene before putting on the mask and after removing it, tying the mask securely to cover the mouth and nose without leaving gaps, not touching the mask while wearing it, and removing the mask by untying it from behind.

Adhering to the guidelines will minimize the potential disadvantages of wearing masks, and maximize the potential benefits.

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