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It will indeed be very surprising if, in the coming weeks, your government does not ask you to start wearing face masks for protection against COVID-19, which has taken the world by storm.

For people who live in Asia, wearing masks is essentially an endorsement of the tactic that has been adopted all over the continent since the crisis began. The popularity of these masks is essentially stemmed from how masks have helped maintain low rates of infection and kept the outbreak of SARS-CoV2 contained.

In countries where people had initially been warned about the usage of masks, this message might seem a little confusing now. However, it is even more relevant since the virus is only starting to wreak havoc in the world and is bound to get worse if the right measures are not taken.

The doctors in America are slightly frustrated at the rate with which masks are being consumed by the general public, leading them to tweet posts like,

"STOP BUYING MASKS!" was tweeted by U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams in late February. The Dr. then went on to explain that marks were not effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19; however, if they became scarce in the time to come, it would take a great toll on healthcare professionals and sick patients.

However, there isn't any strong evidence to establish that wearing masks 'doesn't work.' On the other hand, there is evidence of the exact opposite, and it has been proved that masks greatly help prevent viral infections, including the ongoing pandemic.

Why You Cannot Go Against Masks in These Times

 

As the disease outbreak continues to spread and expand its reach, the public is receiving a number of confusing messages. In many cases, the gatekeepers who are responsible for speaking to the public, like media and health authorities, have not been able to communicate with the people leading to a number of misunderstandings, such as labeling these masks an obsession. Many times such messages have become counterproductive and have encouraged hoarding, while the authorities struggled to manage the scarcity of masks without confronting the reality of the situation.

It is impossible to tell people not to wear masks because the argument that "only healthcare professionals need masks" is confusing and vague. After all, how can the lives of only one section of society be important enough to be protected by the use of masks? And if these masks are crucial to the doctors, they are certainly crucial to the rest of the public as well.

Some sources have tried telling people that wearing N95 masks is pointless for ordinary people if they cannot find the proper fit and size. This message again doesn't help the people or convince them to not use protective masks because they cling to the possibility that what they have is the "right mask."

Moreover, the use of masks has always been advised as a standard response to being in a disease affected zone, especially for people who are vulnerable. World Health Organization officials go as far as wearing masks during their news briefings, and health officials in most high-risk Asian countries advise that the public do the same.

Adrien Burch- an expert on microbiology at the University of California, pointed out to a Cochrane Review and found strong evidence in support of wearing masks during the SARS epidemic of 2003. Another study of community transmission in Beijing has found that "consistently wearing a mask in public was associated with a 70% reduction in the risk of catching SARS."

Ivan Hung, who is an infectious disease specialist from the Hong Kong University School of Medicine, has also pointed out that wearing masks for protection has been a very popular preventive measure in Asian countries. He says that not only does wearing masks lessen the spread of coronavirus, but it also helps to keep people safe from factors that make them vulnerable to this disease, such as influenza.

It is also pretty obvious that places like Hong Kong and Taiwan that quickly jumped to action by embracing early social distancing and universal mask-wearing, have had this pandemic under much better control than other countries who are now adopting these measures. Thus, any argument against wearing a mask doesn't seem to come through for people.

What Do the Authorities Say?

Initially, the World Health Organization, as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, started out by advising people not to wear masks until they turn sick and keeping these commodities reserved for the health professionals who are in need. However, as COVID-19 continues to spread and take its toll on mankind, the instructions from these high authorities are shifting towards the opposite end of the stick.

On Monday itself, while the coronavirus task force briefing went on, President Trump was asked if Americans should resort to wearing non-medical masks to which he replied by saying that it was a possibility he considered might be applicable for a limited period of time but could change later.

Director of the C.D.C, Dr. Robert Redfield, has gone on to confirm in an interview with WABE in Atlanta, that the agency is now reviewing its guidelines on as to who should wear masks. He cited new data that showed a high transmission rate from people who might be infected but do not show any symptoms, claiming that there might be some additional value in wearing masks for protecting people against carriers who are asymptomatically infected.

Dr. Redfield has informed that the coronavirus is at least three times as infectious as the flu. Some people can even go as long as two days without showing any symptoms of this disease.

Dr. Redfield said that one of the main reasons behind the quick spread of coronavirus in the country was the free movement of asymptomatic transmitters, who are free to move around and carry the disease to other people for at least 48 hours before being diagnosed.

When, Why and How To Wear Masks

It is becoming increasingly important for people to wear masks during these times. Although so far, the priority has been ensuring the safety of health personnel- if the spread of this virus must be stopped, masks have to be embraced.

A prime reason for this, as explained by C.D.C.'S Redfield, is that coronavirus is easily spread by people who are asymptomatic. Thus, everyone is being encouraged to wear masks, as the norm was in Hong Kong and other parts of Asia.

Even if there is no asymptomatic transmission, universal and near-universal mask-wearing continues to have its uses. As people have noted, asking only the sick and needy to wear masks is like asking people to open the gateway of fear and hostility in their lives. On the other hand, if most people outside wear masks, particularly the sick, then the spread of this virus can be stopped significantly.

When Should You Wear A Mask?

As per WHO, you should wear a mask if-

  • If you are healthy and taking care of a person who might be affected by the 2019-nCoV infection.
  • If you find yourself coughing and sneezing regularly.
  • If you wear a mask, you should be careful about using and disposing of it as well

WHO also suggests that you combine the usage of masks with frequent hand washing with alcohol-based hand-wash, or simple soap and water.

How to Wear Masks

WHO has also assigned some instructions as to how to wear masks. These are-

  • Before you put on a mask, make sure that you clean your hands with alcohol-based hand-rub, sanitizer or soap, and water.
  • Cover the whole of your mouth and nose with mask and ensure that there are no gaps between your face and the mask.
  • Do not touch the mask while you are using it. If you do happen to touch your mask, make sure that you clean your hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
  • As soon as your mask is damp, you need to replace it with a dry and clean one. Make sure that you do not re-use masks, which are only meant to be used once.
  • Make sure that you remove the mask from behind, without touching the front. After this, you should get rid of it immediately by disposing it in a closed bin and washing your hands with soap and water.

The evidence is increasingly coming around in favor of masks. Many of us have now begun to question whether it would have been wiser to use masks in January itself instead of avoiding them, as was advised by the CDC and other authorities.


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