The World Health Organisation (WHO) has consistently said that only those who have symptoms or are caring for someone with COVID-19 should wear masks.
But a new study and evidence from Hong Kong, Japan and America indicates masks may have a protective benefit for the public and a panel of WHO experts is due to assess the evidence today with a view to potentially changing their guidance.
Professor David Heymann, who is chairing the panel, said “There is right now a debate about the usefulness of masks because Hong Kong has provided some evidence that masks may be useful in protecting individuals from infection,”.
Reasons cited for the low rates of infection and low death rates in Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and several other South East Asian countries include :
- Early extensive testing and isolation
- Early contact tracing
We can now add wearing of masks in public which we know is a very common practice in this part of the world – lessons learnt from the previous SARS epidemic in 2004.
My personal opinion is to combine science with pragmatism.
We should not be using surgical masks which are still in short supply and needed by the front line workers. There was 1 study conducted in 2015 which showed that cloth masks were not as effective as surgical masks but the authors have recently advised that it is better than nothing.
There have been a number of laboratory studies looking at the effectiveness of different types of cloth materials, single versus multiple layers and about the role that filters can play. Cotton is the best material as it filters adequately whilst still breathable. Multiple layer is good as the mask is ineffective once it is wet.
Cloth masks are relatively easy for most of us to DIY. You may find this video useful –
This is my own cheeky version
If you are going to wear masks, you must follow the following rules :
- Masks should cover the nose and be maximally fitting to the face
- Change the mask once it is wet
- Do not touch the mask or your face, untie it from the back.
- Dispose of the mask in a bin bag outside the house. Cloth masks should be washed daily