Not only on the occasion of the current pandemic in film reports from China, the vast majority of people seen on the streets wear masks on their faces. And yet it is a society seasoned with numerous public health crises, and in addition living in a high concentration on a daily basis – the behavior of an individual in a crowd is therefore of great importance for the safety of others. So maybe we should follow an example from them?
Some Chinese provinces have made it compulsory to wear protective face masks in public places, but the official position of the Beijing authorities is consistent with what experts from the World Health Organization say: masks should be worn by medical personnel and all people with symptoms of infection, and those who care for patients with the infection Covid-19.
These instructions leave no interpretation doubts. The situation is different in the case of the recommendation (also issued in most Asian countries) to wear masks when “due to daily activities someone is at increased risk of infection”. After all, daily activity can mean different things to everyone, as can “exposure” or “increased risk” – such concepts are highly ambiguous. Everyone can interpret them in their own way, the more that even among experts there is no consensus so far whether the current coronavirus is an above-average threat, or rather a classic infection of the upper respiratory tract, with some risk of more serious complications, against which, however, the restrictions taken are excessive.
Keeping your distance more effective than the mask
Maybe, however, just as the recommendations regarding the need for testing change as the epidemic develops, the guidelines for wearing masks also need to be modified? When we did not have a rapidly increasing number of patients, the risk of meeting such a person in public places was obviously much lower than now. But it is still not the mask that provides full protection here, but quarantine and isolation from the crowd.
Viruses, at least by all indications, do not spread in the air except for droplets of secretions from the respiratory tract of people infected with them. And in open spaces, such a risk is really small. Information that SARS-CoV-2 germs can survive for two or three hours in the air comes from laboratory experiments, so it is difficult to relate to an ordinary street. When going to the store or on the way to work (which we can afford today), of course you can “catch” the virus, but it will happen if we do not take care of 1.5-2 meters distance from another person and, of course, he must talk to us, cough or sneeze towards us.
As for the air we breathe, it is also worth bearing in mind that its various parameters affect the rate at which germs are transmitted. It cannot be ruled out that observations from various parts of Asia have nothing to do with European conditions, and even in Europe itself, different humidity, temperature and degree of pollution determine a different degree of this risk. It will be for every situation and for an individual – whether it is on a busy street, in a more open space, or on a train or bus , where there is no circulation at all (which, of course, is a disadvantage and increases the risk).
Certainly, the mask in each of these places will work better for a person who cannot help but sneeze and cough. But is he even entitled to leave the house in such a state ?! The question is, what about people with asymptomatic infection? Is it not better that we all go outside so protected, since it cannot be ruled out that we pass infections without symptoms, becoming a hidden source of infection for others?
Experts respond to this doubt that the risk of infection also depends on the amount of the germ our body is dealing with. If someone is seriously ill, having a spray of air around them will have many more viruses than someone who has no symptoms, and therefore does not sneeze or cough. It is potentially more difficult to get infected than it. You would need to have really close contact with such a “asymptomatic” person – kiss, hug, use the same cutlery. Please note why children with this infection can easily or asymptomatically infect adults. Because they do not keep the distance from the kids that usually prevails between the elderly.
The benefit of the mask? Better individual hygiene
Or maybe there is something to the suspicion that people are advised to wear the best multi-layer face masks. Using the mask several times is pointless. Everything that we would not like to bring home from the air is collected on it, and taking it off the face, you must not touch the filtering surface with your hands, which is not easy at all. Keeping the mask in good condition for a long time is quite a challenge (it becomes wet, which further weakens its effectiveness), it should not be worn loosely over the nose. In order for the masks to offer protection, anyone leaving the house would need to have a supply of a few each day.
And they can’t be bought now and the price has soared, so it’s quite an expense. In fact, instead of struggling with such a mask without a professional filter, you can now protect the upper respiratory tract by wrapping your mouth and nose with a scarf or a handkerchief. The effect will be the same!
The only benefit that even opponents of masks see in their use is that they reduce the transmission of germs from hand to face. As shown in one study, we all unknowingly touch our face about 23 times an hour, and with each touch we transfer germs to the fingers or mucous membranes of the eyes, nose and mouth. A person with a face mask touches the cheeks less often (and the nose and mouth at all), so the risk of contact with viruses drastically reduces.
The moral of this is that implementing the rules of quarantine, avoiding large clusters and traveling together – nowadays called the fashionable “seclusion” or “social distance” – has the same effect as masking the face. We see Asians wearing masks, because in their metropolises it is difficult to find such conditions. In addition, hygiene standards are still relevant: regularly washing hands with warm soapy water, avoiding touching your eyes and nose with your hands, sneezing and coughing on disposable tissue (which should be thrown away immediately) or on a bent elbow (not an open hand).