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The official word, face masks help stop the spread

12 Apr 2020
The official word, face masks help stop the spread

Extract of an article by Siouxsie Wiles published on The Spinoff on 6 April 2020.

Will surgical and cloth masks help stop the spread of Covid-19?

Because of what they are made of and how they fit, surgical and cloth masks are unlikely to stop you catching Covid-19. But the question everyone is asking is: do they play a role in stopping the spread of the virus? The prevention of spread has become especially important as the understanding of how the virus transmits has changed. At first, it was thought the virus was spread through droplets from people with symptoms. Now it’s understood that people can shed the virus even before they have symptoms. And some people may shed the virus without ever developing symptoms. Precisely how many people do this isn’t known. There is now also a worry that people can spread the virus through talking and singing.

Why I’ve been reluctant to recommend masks for everyone – at least here in New Zealand.

Quite a few reasons. A bit like what happened with hand sanitiser, I was really concerned that if everyone rushed out to buy face masks then those who really needed them would go without. I was also really worried that people would feel a false sense of security and then not do all the things that will help protect them and others from Covid-19. And every time I’ve gone to the supermarket I’ve seen evidence of this.

One of the reasons you’ll see advice about mask-wearing changing is partly because new evidence is coming to light, like the studies I’ve mentioned. But it’s also because there are many places where the virus is spreading exponentially, and many people are still going about their business. In this scenario, the more people who wear masks, the more likely those who are infected but don’t know it will be wearing one. And that will help capture at least some virus-laden droplets which should help reduce transmission. In other words, the pros vastly outweigh the cons.

So, if you are living in a place with widespread community transmission of Covid-19, please wear a mask. And if you are living in New Zealand, where we are all in our bubbles and aren’t seeing exponential spread of the virus? Then check out one of the excellent tutorials on making your own face mask and wear it when you go out to the supermarket or to access other essential services. That way you’ll be protecting our essential workers.

But promise me this. That’ll you’ll wash your hands before you put your mask on, and then again once you’ve got it on. That you won’t touch it while you are wearing it. And, if you do, you’ll immediately wash your hands. That you will wash it after every use and allow it to dry properly before using it again. And that you’ll keep up with regular hand-washing and physical distancing.

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