At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak, the wearing of masks (be it cloth, surgical, or australian face masks) became politicized and became a political issue rather than a health issue. This made it difficult to encourage the use of face masks to protect others as there was very little regulation and enforcement for the requirement of wearing a face mask on a national level. It even came to a point where wearing or not wearing a face mask became a source of contention and conflict between ordinary people.
There have been various scientific studies that proved that wearing a mask as a precautionary measure greatly lowered the spread of coronavirus, and many of them advocated the donning of one, particularly when in enclosed spaces with a lot of people.
Who benefits from wearing a mask?
The CDC recommended that most kids and adults with no adverse health conditions should wear a mask in order to impede the spread of COVID-19. An exception is made for children under the age of two or anyone who has respiratory issues, is unconscious, incapacitated, or is unable to remove their mask themselves.
The United Nations World Health Organization, at the beginning of the outbreak, advised people to not purchase medical-grade masks and respirators due to concerns that there would be a Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) shortage for frontline healthcare workers around the world. The WHO recommended that the general public wear cloth or fabric masks in place of medical-grade surgical masks and respirators.
The CDC has devised a system that categorizes the COVD-19 risk for both the community and an individual into three levels: low, medium, and high.
The CDC recommends that if your community and individual risk are low, you can choose to wear a mask based on your personal preference, keeping in mind your personal risk. In medium-risk areas, you should consult your doctor on the wearing of a face mask or respirator, particularly if you’re with someone who is at a higher risk of severe illness. It is recommended that before visiting someone who is at high risk for severe illness, you conduct a COVID-19 test prior to coming into contact with them in order to minimize their exposure to the pandemic. At high risk, it is recommended to wear a mask or respirator indoors and in public, particularly so if you’re immunocompromised.
Surgical masks are to be used by healthcare workers, people with symptoms of COVID-19 or those taking care of people with COVID-19 (and its symptoms), as well as people who are over the age of 59. It is also recommended to wear a mask if you have underlying health conditions. A cloth face mask is recommended for those who are in communities with high levels of COVID-19 spread and where social distancing is not possible, such as in enclosed spaces with minimal room and closed ventilation systems. Common places where it is highly recommended to wear a face mask include public transportation, shops and stores, workplaces, and venues with a high volume of people.
How does a mask protect you?
When worn correctly over both your mouth and nose, a face mask can lower the transmission of viruses by as much as 70%. To wear your face mask properly, it is highly recommended to wash your hands before donning your face mask and to throw it away after one use. After that, make sure that the mask is adjusted to contour your face and nose and form a snug, but comfortable fit. Cloth masks can be reused with no issue, provided that they are washed daily or when dirty, whichever comes first. Do ensure that you store your reusable cloth face masks in their own bags to keep them clean and free from other contaminants.
A mask also stops pre-symptomatic spread, where you are spreading the virus before you even realize that you have COVID-19. This is especially important as a majority of COVID-19 spreads are due to a pre-symptomatic individual spreading the virus to others without their knowledge. In these instances, the individual may not be experiencing symptoms at that moment or will never experience symptoms. The difficulty in ascertaining whether you have COVID-19 before your symptoms show up makes it even more important that you wear a face mask as much as possible so as to reduce the rate of transmission. Doing something as simple as wearing a face mask, combined with better hygiene practices like the frequent washing of hands, will greatly reduce the spread.
Besides protecting others from the spread of COVID-19, it also protects you from getting sick and contracting the virus. The rate of protection is significantly higher compared to no mask at all, as there is an increased barrier of protection against infectious droplets. Experts have also advised that masks with a higher thread count and those with multiple layers of cloth are superior in performance when measuring how much protection they give from external sources of COVID-19 transmission.
It is also generally regarded as good hygiene to wear a mask, too. There is a reason why surgeons, doctors, and other medical professionals don face masks. It protects them from external germs as well as prevents their own germs from being transmitted to others. Especially when you are feeling unwell, wearing a mask when ill is considered good practice in many other countries.
Though many view the wearing of face masks as a personal choice, there are plenty of good arguments backed by solid scientific evidence that clearly outlines the benefits to both the individual and the community. If you are in contact with someone who is at high risk of severe illness, it is vital that you practice good personal hygiene and conduct regular checks to ensure that you are free of COVID-19 before coming into contact with them. Wearing a face mask is important not just for your own personal safety but also for the safety of your loved ones and your community. The more people that wear masks, the lower the rate of transmission of COVID-19 will be, and the better the immunocompromised and more vulnerable members of our society are protected.