Some health experts questioning advice against wider use of masks to slow spread of COVID-19
Science magazine had been trying for days to speak to the elusive George Gao, head of China’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.
When the magazine asked him if he could point to any mistakes that might explain why Western countries were struggling to flatten the coronavirus curve, he didn’t miss a beat.
“The big mistake in the U.S. and Europe, in my opinion, is that people aren’t wearing masks,” he said.
“You’ve got to wear a mask, because when you speak, there are always droplets coming out of your mouth. Many people have asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic infections. If they are wearing face masks, it can prevent droplets that carry the virus from escaping and infecting others.”
That advice is contradicted by the World Health Organization, the government of Canada and federal public health officials like Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam. On its webpage, the WHO says that “if you are healthy, you only need to wear a mask if you are taking care of a person with suspected [COVID-19] infection.”
“Putting a mask on an asymptomatic person is not beneficial, obviously, if you’re not infected,” Tam said Monday.
Only medical masks such as those labelled N95 are designed and fitted to filter out particles that carry the COVID-19 virus. Other masks, such as surgical masks, are looser fitting and made of material that may reduce concentrations of some aerosol particles.
A 2015 randomized clinical trial found that cloth masks, for example, did not block influenza and respiratory viruses and actually increased the rate of infections among health care workers, and even surgical masks blocked only slightly more than half of virus particles.
Dr. K.K. Cheng, director of the Institute of Applied Health Research at the University of Birmingham in the U.K., said that Tam’s advice makes a dangerous assumption — that an asymptomatic person is not a spreader.
“The important thing about this coronavirus is that some patients start to shed virus, and become infectious, even before they have symptoms,” he said.
“In public health, a principle is we try to limit the source of harmful exposures rather than do mitigation, if we can. Hand-washing is a form of mitigation.
“I’m not suggesting in the least that people should stop washing hands. It’s very important. But if you’re out in public in a supermarket, or in a subway train or on the bus, I think it makes a lot of sense for everyone to wear a mask.”
While officials in the West caution that the explanations for Asian countries’ greater success in controlling the pandemic are complex, officials from the countries themselves — such as Gao and Cheng as well as some South Korean specialists — often point to masks.
Now some European governments are choosing to follow pro-mask policies.
Austria on Monday banned members of the public from entering a supermarket without one. Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said that is only the first step toward wider adoption of masks.
Next door, the Czech Republic requires everyone to wear a mask in public. The country has experienced a lower-than-average spread of COVID-19.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S. is also reportedly considering whether it should revise its guidance on masks, according to the Washington Post. It, too, recommends that only those with symptoms and those caring for them wear masks. – CBC News
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The problem now is that its almost impossible to buy masks. Sooo once again, thanks to Ottawa, we are screwed.
The whole problem began when our governments failed to stock enough protective equipment for medical personnel. Now, what equipment there is is being rationed with medical and first response personnel being on the top of the priority list. Hence the story downplaying the effectiveness of everyone wearing a mask. There are not enough to go around.
What I have learned from this pandemic debacle is that you have to look out for your own best interests when it comes to health and safety. Pay attention to what is happening around the world and prepare accordingly. Depending on any level of government should be a last resort.