Cloth masks can protect public against new COVID-19 variants – Health Minister
…only personnel in high-risk settings need increased protection
News of new COVID-19 variants appearing in several locations across the world has raised questions about whether enhanced protective measures are needed.
These were clarified by Health Minister Dr Frank Anthony, who related on Monday that the general population can continue using regular masks since they are not in high-risk environments.
During the coronavirus update, he noted that as long as there is some form of covering over the nose and mouth, persons in the public domain are shielded from possible viral droplets. While cloth masks do not offer the same protection as N95 and surgical masks, they will prevent these droplets from entering the respiratory system.
“The cloth masks would offer protection against droplets but they’re not as protective as an N95 or surgical that is purposely designed to prevent viral infections. Because most people are not in a high-risk environment, these masks would work fine. It functions as a mechanism to prevent viral transmission and because you’re not in a high-risk environment, it would be protective. There are many studies that have demonstrated this and our guidance is to make sure that people continue to wear some form of covering over their nose or mouth. It doesn’t matter which strain or variant we’re dealing with. Once we’re taking these protective measures, you are going to prevent transmission,” the Minister expounded.
In risky settings such as hospitals, the level of protection is more important especially when dealing with positive patients. This is where consideration is taken to wear an N95 or surgical mask, which is reinforced for greater defence.
“The recommendation is that if you’re in a high-risk environment, then you use material that would be appropriate. An N95 mask is designed to be used in a high-risk environment such as a hospital, doctor interacting with patients who has COVID-19…That’s one of your highest forms of protection because an N95 mask would have five layers. Then you have surgical masks, which is also highly effective and sometimes would be as effective as the N95 mask but they’re used also in more high-risk settings.”
Transmission of COVID-19 happens through droplets or aerosols. Persons have been cautioned that having a face covering when in public will block this viral infection from spreading.
The Minister detailed, “Aerosols are very tiny particles and therefore you want to guard against that so any face covering that covers your nose and your mouth would act as a barrier to prevent particles, whether it’s droplets, to enter into the person’s respiratory and alimentary system. It’s a way of physically blocking that transmission.”
According to the World Health Organisation, medical masks and respirator masks are similar in their protection value. However, respirators are specific for certain instances because they have a tightly fitted component to them.
“Respirator masks are designed to protect healthcare workers who provide care to COVID-19 patients in settings and areas where aerosol-generating procedures are undertaken. Healthcare workers should be fit tested before using a respirator to ensure that they are wearing the correct size. Wearing a loose-fitting respirator will not offer the same protection to the wearer and may allow small particles to get inside the mask through the sides,” the organisation detailed.
Apart from wearing masks correctly, there are other sanitisation and social distancing protocols to decrease the risks of contracting the coronavirus.