Masking the contagion

The truth is, no single preventative action holds the golden key in disease prevention within the context of proper infection control.

Even as the government announced that wearing masks while venturing out of homes is mandatory and any violation would be fined, violations still continue in the manner masks are worn by certain individuals. Some people wear masks covering only the mouth, or some even strangely wore it on the forehead without covering the mouth and the nose. Over the past few days, there has been a lot of debate on whether masks should be worn or not worn and how it should be worn. If the wearing of masks gives a false sense of security then so too are the actions of washing hands, using hand-sanitizers, wearing gloves, and even the practice of social distancing, when practiced in isolation?

The truth is, no single preventative action holds the golden key in disease prevention within the context of proper infection control. Each action contributes significantly to the process and complements the other in disease containment. According to experts, face masks can help protect against many respiratory infections that are spread through the droplet route, and that includes coronavirus and the flu. They say, viruses such as the coronavirus can spread from an infected person to others through the air by coughing and sneezing or by touching a contaminated surface and then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes prior to hand washing. When a face mask is worn, one can prevent those droplets from coming into contact with one’s face or mouth before dropping to the ground.

WHO insists that masks should be appropriately used. It is critical to achieve an adequate seal to the face when masks are used. It says, before putting on a mask, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand rub or preferably washing with soap and water, cover mouth and nose with mask, ensure that there are no gaps between your face and the mask, avoid touching the mask while using it; if you do, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand rub or preferably wash with soap and water, replace the mask with a new one as soon as it is damp and do not re-use single-use masks, to remove the mask: remove it from behind and discard immediately in a closed bin, and clean your hands with alcohol-based hand rub or preferably wash with soap and water.

After initial debate, the utility of masks during the Covid-19 pandemic seems widely accepted now.

The dominant scientific opinion says masks are very useful, and even relatively simple home-made masks can offer a great degree of protection against the novel coronavirus. Even low-quality home-made masks could lead to significant reduction in the spread of the disease, though other interventions would also be required in that case to achieve elimination, a study said. Using face-masks in public (including low-efficacy cloth masks) is very useful in minimising community transmission and burden of COVID-19, provided their coverage level is high. Masks, however, need to be worn properly, with a tight fit, and for all the time one is out, otherwise they would not offer any protection.

Another study says that mask usage by a large proportion of the population could help in reducing the lockdown period as well. When used in conjunction with widespread testing, contact tracing, quarantining of anyone that may be infected, hand washing and physical distancing, face masks are a valuable tool to reduce community transmission. But the study warned that use of masks must not lead to people ignoring physical distancing rules. Dr Jagmeet Singh, professor of cardiology at Harvard Medical School, said the big value of masks was in the fact that it offered two-way protection. He further said, when people step out of their homes, they should consider others as possibly infected, and themselves as possible contagion. If they wear a mask, there is a two-way protection. They prevent the possibility of infecting others, and protect themselves. Let us heed the words of the wise.

First Published:Sept. 2, 2020, 11:54 p.m.