By Dr Zulfikar Bux
Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine
By now, we are all aware of the local and worldwide impacts of the coronavirus infection. Guyana is now beginning to see its share of the infection. Given the global devastation of this pandemic, we need to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. Since we are still in the early phases of this infection in Guyana, our best chance of preventing a disaster lies in preventing its spread as much as possible. It is with this in mind that I wish to introduce the concept of everyone wearing a mask.
Why is this important?
A recent research by the Columbia University found that when the coronavirus infection initially took off in China, 86 percent of the cases were “undocumented”; that is, asymptomatic or only had mild symptoms. They found that while these asymptomatic people were only 55 percent as contagious as symptomatic people, they were the source of 79 percent of further infections. This was because there were more of them and since they were asymptomatic, there was higher likelihood of them being out and about. There are therefore many people who are spreading the infection but do not have any symptoms. To add to this complexity, researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) found that viral droplets expelled from coughs and sneezes can travel in moist, warm atmosphere at speeds of 10-30 meters per second, creating a cloud that can span 7-8 meters. Researchers also found that droplets circulate from people’s mouth when they speak or sing. Now, how can we combat this in the social space when we were initially told one meter was sufficient? The simplest and most logical answer is for us all to wear mask once we are leaving our home.
What would happen if everyone wears a mask?
If all of us in Guyana wear a mask, we will cough into it and will minimise/stop the virus from spreading. If the virus cannot spread freely, it cannot infect as many people and we should be able to decrease its potency and save many lives. There will be less particles with virus in the air and less contaminated surfaces.
What’s the advantage of everyone wearing a mask?
While wearing regular masks do not guarantee that someone will be free from catching the COVID-19 infection, it does increase the likelihood of preventing spread to the entire population. If the entire population benefits, then you will also benefit.
Wearing a mask will:
• Stop infected persons from expelling the coronavirus
• Help remind you to not touch your face and therefore, decrease the risk of you getting the infection into your body
• If you still get infected while wearing the mask, there is a much better chance of starting with a lower inoculum of the virus and a better disease outcome
Is there evidence out there of “everyone wearing a mask”?
A few weeks ago, the Government of the Czech Republic initiated a mandatory regulation, which made everyone wear a mask when they leave home. Almost 100% of the country responded and they are now boasting of an 80% decrease in the coronavirus spread. Other countries are also taking similar steps and seeing lower rates of infection.
How can we ensure our masks are worn safely?
• Ensure your hands and mask are clean before putting on your mask
• When you leave home with your mask on, avoid touching it as much as possible
• If you have to take your mask off when you are out, wash or sanitize your hands first. Take your mask off by grabbing the attachments on your ear, do what you have to do and then put your mask on as soon as you are finished.
• Clean your hands again
• Only touch the earpiece portion of your mask
• Use a different mask every day or clean your mask before reusing it
How can you clean your mask?
The most practical way to clean your mask and ensure that it still protects you, is to put it in a paper bag and place it in the oven for 30 minutes at 70°C. You can leave it to settle for a week in the sun but you will have to have extra masks while it’s not in use.
What about mask shortages?
This is a real challenge worldwide. We need to prevent shortages of mask as our healthcare providers need them daily, especially the N95 masks. We should let our healthcare providers use those and use the regular masks when we are in the public. The people of the Czech Republic came together and started making their own masks and sharing with those who didn’t have. Facemasks that prevent the virus spread are easy to make. You can use cloth made of cotton and sew two layers together, attach a hairpin to adjust it to fit your nose, and attach two elastic hair ties to fit on your ears. There are numerous videos on YouTube that show how to make a facemask even with coffee filters.
So does this mean that you can socialize casually?
No! You need to still practice social distancing and other recommended hygiene as much as possible. Stay home if you don’t have to be out. Wearing a facemask does not mean that you can go about without necessity.
It is therefore very evident that if everyone wears a mask, we will be able to drastically slow this infection and prevent many complications and deaths. We have all seen what the COVID-19 (coronavirus) infection is doing worldwide. Guyana and Guyanese are not immune to this infection. Let’s be responsible and fight this together before it’s too late and we are all overwhelmed and affected. Let’s start the ‘everyone wears a mask campaign’ in Guyana. Wear a facemask when you go out and encourage others to do it. Wear a facemask to protect others and it will come back to protect you and your loved ones.
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