Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in December 2019, there have been mixed opinions on whether healthy people should wear face masks to protect themselves from the novel COVID-19 pandemic. While officials in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and China are recommending its use in crowded places, experts in the U.S. and at the World Health Organization mentioned no such need. However, the sudden spread of the deadly virus has aggravated the demand for face-masks, ultimately leading to a shortage.
A contrarian view is emerging among experts that go against the advice of public health institutes. And the arguments presented seem to hold water.
#1 – Prevents Spread by Asymptomatic Carriers
COVID-19 has an incubation period of anywhere between 5 to 14 days, U.S. National Library of Medicine states. However, since the majority of infected people do not become symptomatic, it's difficult for anybody to identify and isolate them. Case in point – outbreak of COVID-19 in Massachusetts started by people who were totally asymptomatic. If we extrapolate this to the national level, the scenario cannot be different anywhere else. Wearing a mask is not only about protecting yourself but also about protecting others if you are just a carrier of the virus.
#2 – Reduces Face Touching
Coronavirus though, is not airborne; it's highly infectious and transmitted through touch. When a healthy person touches a contaminated surface and then, in turn, touches their own face, the infection occurs. Now, someone who is wearing a mask will refrain from touching their face. A study conducted by the National Center for Biotechnology Information states that physical interventions such as washing hands regularly and wearing masks help in arresting the spread of respiratory viruses. What's interesting about this study is the fact that wearing a mask is 68 percent effective in arresting the spread of the virus as compared to washing hands 10 times a day, which is 55 percent effective. Thus wearing a mask helps in attaining the goals of containing the virus faster and stopping the spread.
#3 – No Stigma with Wearing a Mask
Most Southeast Asians are comfortable wearing respiratory masks in public. However, incidents have been reported wherein people wearing masks were ostracized, thinking they were infected. Though many Americans have already purchased the masks, many are hesitant to wear them because of fear of being ostracized. The condition was similar in countries like Japan, South Korea, China, before the 2003 SARS outbreak. The government encouraged people to wear masks to prevent community transmission of not only SARS but other respiratory viruses as well. And when everyone around you starts wearing a mask, you will not be seen as someone with the infection, but as someone who is concerned about his as well as the health of others around.
Shortage of Masks for Those Who Need it Most
The key problem is the availability of masks in such large numbers. The solution is already being worked out. Textile manufacturers in countries like India are already making changes to use their existing setups to manufacture masks. Companies like 3M that produce quality N95 masks are ramping up their production to meet the high demand. Soon, the scarcity of masks will be over. And expect more cost-effective N95 masks in the near future as more companies start producing it.
As stated earlier, COVID-19 is highly infectious and can be stopped only if policymakers and general public work in tandem to stop the spread. The government is already working, you just have to do you part by wearing a mask when going out, washing your hands with soap or hand sanitizer as frequently as possible, and try staying at home.