If you don’t wear face mask you are taking a very big risk – what health experts saying

If you are not sick with the coronavirus disease, or you are not caring for someone who is sick with the disease but you do not even know the person you are freely talking to is sick, therefore you don’t see any need to wear a face mask, it simply means you’re in trouble. That’s the new line now being toed by a number of health experts to encourage people whether you feel sick or not, to wear face masks during this coronavirus pandemic. If you don’t feel like wearing a mask then don’t go out at all. Social distancing might help too. Read this interesting article and find out why not wearing a face mask could land you in serious trouble with COVID-19.

There a raging argument on whether wearing face mask during this COVID-19 pandemic is necessary or not. This has brought about serious confusion even in the public domain especially based on the comments of a highly credible body as the World Health Organization (WHO). The view of WHO officials on the use of face mask has turned out to be at the center of confusion during pandemic as it seems the organization is not very sure of what they are insisting on. The conflicting views on this issue have led many people to still remain unsure about whether a mask is essential to keep them safe.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, a renowned reporter with the CNN exposed the faulty nature of the no-need-to-wear-face mask advice by WHO and refused to completely back the advice. Who is Sanjay Gupta? He is an American neurosurgeon, medical reporter, actor and writer. He serves as associate chief of the neurosurgery service at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia, and as assistant professor of neurosurgery at the Emory University School of Medicine and Chief Medical Correspondent for CNN.

Gupta appeared on a CNN programme, The Lead with Jake Tapper, on Tuesday, March 30, shortly after who re-emphasized that people who are not sick should not wear masks. Gupta did not completely show support for that comment because he believes people should wear masks. His reason is very interesting. First, he pointed out that there is a document released by WHO which advised on the use of face masks in health care settings in the context of the novel coronavirus outbreak. The comment says “Wearing a medical mask is one of the prevention measures to limit spread of certain respiratory diseases, including2019-nCoV, in affected areas.” Let’s get something straight here. If you read the entire document you would discover that WHO is likely referring to those it says should wear the mask (sick people, those caring for the sick, and health workers), yet in that same document who said “a medical mask is not required, as no evidence is available on its usefulness to protect non-sick persons. However, masks might be worn in some countries according to local cultural habits.” So you see, WHO says people who are not sick shouldn’t wear face masks, yet they play down on countries already having the habit or laws supporting the use of masks.

Let’s get this straight. WHO officials are saying those who are not sick or are not caring for the sick should not wear mask. Yet, the same WHO in its interim guidance on the use of face masks in health care settings in the context of the novel coronavirus outbreak, made comments that showed they’re not completely against wearing of face masks during this pandemic. For instance, at a briefing on 30 March, WHO officials were careful to say that the agency does not criticise countries who advise wearing masks. But at the same time, the agency was quick to stress that masks are commonly misused, and as a result, won’t offer the intended protections, report weforum.org.

Back to the argument by Gupta on CNN’s Lead with Jake Tapper while giving his view on wearing of masks. Let’s get something very clear first. Gupta is a very reliable expert on health issues such as infectious diseases, including COVID-19. So when he speaks, the world listens. Gupta simply believes there is no problem with the use of face masks by members of the public, whether you are showing symptoms of COVID-19 or not. Here is one very interesting view he gave to support this view which everyone wearing face mask should know. Gupta reminded the world that many coronavirus careers are asymptomatic, so they could be moving about, not wearing face masks because they are not sick, and unknowingly spreading the disease. When they eventually start showing the symptoms and ‘become qualified’ to wear face masks, it is then too late. This is a very pertinent point which counters and punctures the widely held view pushed by the WHO that those who are not sick should not wear face masks as protection from coronavirus infection. Just like every other person that holds this view, wearing a face mask could give false impression of security but what of the asymptomatic careers of the virus who are wearing the mask not knowing they are preventing the spread of the virus?

Gupta also touched on the psychological aspect of wearing face mask during the COVID-19 pandemic. While referring to America he said “people will know that America is sick.” So the face mask also creates a sense urgency or underlying awareness that something is wrong. Imagine where everyone is walking without a mask, the few people who decide to wear mask will be seriously stigmatized. They will be avoided as if they are walking coronaviruses. It will be very counterproductive. So the idea of asking people not to wear face mask is beginning to be punctured because it might even be an avenue to quickly spread the disease because so many people are carrying the coronavirus but because they are asymptomatic (not showing even the slightest symptoms) they could spread it to others.

Apart from Dr. Sanjay Gupta, other experts have disagreed, too, with some authorities begging healthy people to stop buying masks, while others have conceded that the masks may be beneficial, especially if worn before people know they are sick. “The argument … about everybody wearing a mask is not that it will prevent everyone from getting infected it’s that it will slow down transmission in the community a bit,” Ben Cowling, a professor of epidemiology and a mask researcher at the University of Hong Kong’s School of Public Health, previously told Business Insider. “That’s already useful. Just to have even a small effect is useful,” Cowling added.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, insisted during a media briefing on April 1, that face mask priority should still go to healthcare workers, people who are sick with COVID-19, and their caretakers. According to the WHO director-general, healthy people don’t need to wear face masks yet. “We’re continuing to study the evidence about the use of masks. WHO’s priority is that frontline health workers are able to access essential personal protective equipment, including medical masks and respirators,” Tedros said, adding that the organization is working with governments and manufacturers to step up production of such equipment, according Business Insider.

But the argument of experts such as Gupta, Cowling and many others is beginning to change that perception especially in view of the fact that wearing of face masks by the general public worked in South Korea. Even WHO agrees to the social and psychological benefits of wearing face mask, as was noted during its briefing on 30th March. For instance, in some countries, mask wearing helped to prevent stigmatizing the infected.

Messages on use of face masks differ from country to country. The US Surgeon General pleaded with the public in February to stop buying masks, while countries such as South Korea and Japan distributed them to the public. Recently the Czech Republic and Slovakia even made them mandatory. WHO officials helped clarify how they recommend masks can best be deployed at a briefing on 30 March, as reported on weforum-org.

WHO says those who should wear a face mask are as follows, according to Says Michael J. Ryan, Chief Executive Director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme: Those who are sick; those who are home caregivers for those who are sick (people caring for the sick should wear masks to protect themselves and to prevent further transmission throughout a family unit) and those who are frontline healthcare workers (these are people most at risk from this virus and are exposed to the virus “every second of every day”, Ryan also said).

WHO officials were careful to say that the agency does not criticise countries who advise wearing masks. But at the same time, the agency was quick to stress that masks are commonly misused, and as a result, won’t offer the intended protections.

For instance, wearing a mask can provide a false sense of security, say experts, leading some to become less vigilant in more important hygiene measures, such as hand washing. Additionally, removing a mask so it no longer covers your nose, or touching the outside of the mask can make it less effective.

WHO officials say it is important to remeber that coronavirus is spread by droplets and not airborne transmission. “The most likely person to become a case is someone who has been in significant contact of another case,” said Ryan.

The global shortage of personal protection equipment underscored the need to carefully deploy masks where they would do the most good, said Ryan.

“One can argue that there’s a benefit of anything,” he said, “but where does the given tool have its most benefit and right now the people most at risk from this virus are frontline health workers who are exposed to the virus every second of every day.”

The shortage is not the primary reason the WHO does not recommend mass mask wearing. But Ryan said: “The thought of [health care workers] not having masks is horrific.”

Still, mask wearing by the general public is not among the WHO’s recommendations. “We don’t generally recommend the wearing of masks in public by otherwise well individuals because it has not up to now been associated with any particular benefit,” said Ryan.

WHO also fears that asking the public to wear face masks might make them scarce for those whom they think ‘actually need them.’ Maybe there’ll be rush for the face masks as a result of which health workers won’t even find them to use. But there is need to be very cautious in given advise on this issue, as Sanjay Gupta, and some other health experts have noted.

WHO has also suggested that if masks are used, best practices should be followed on how to wear, remove, and dispose of them and on hand hygiene action after removal. So emphasis should be on how to rightly use the masks, not that people shouldn’t wear masks. The WHO then gave advice regarding appropriate mask management, and from all indications, people have been using masks wrongly across the world, especially in Africa. Read the safe ways to use face masks outlined by WHO and be shocked by the contents.

The following information on correct use of medical masks derives from the practices in health-care settings:

-place mask carefully to cover mouth and nose and tie securely to minimise any gaps between the face and the mask;

-while in use, avoid touching the mask;

-remove the mask by using appropriate technique (i.e. do not touch the front but remove the lace from behind);

-after removal or whenever you in advertently touch a used mask, clean hands by using an alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water if visibly soiled

-replace masks with a new clean, dry mask as soon as they become damp/humid;

-do not re-use single-use masks;

-discard single-use masks after each use and dispose of them immediately upon removal.

Cloth (e.g. cotton or gauze) masks are not recommended under any circumstance.

Even in Nigeria, face masks made from cotton have flooded the market either because they are available or affordable. It is now clear that most people who use face masks use them wrongly.

After reading this piece, decide on the divide you should rightly belong. If you decide to be wearing face masks then do it the right way, according to advice by health experts.

UPDATE: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States of America has made a u-turn on its position you should not wear a face mask if you’re not sick. The CDC has now advised Americans to voluntarily wear a basic cloth or fabric home made mask when they go out in order to help fight the spread of the new coronavirus. The CDC advised Americans to wear non-medical masks after insisting for weeks that healthy people do not need to wear masks in most circumstances.

This shows that health experts as Sanjay Gupta and Ben Cowling have won the debate; their position that everyone needs to wear a face mask during the coronavirus pandemic has sailed through.

 

The Author

Chinenye Nwabueze

Nwabueze is a communication researcher with several years of lecturing experience in Nigerian universities.

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