Are face masks a good idea or not?

The US Center for Diseases Control( CDC) has reversed its advice on face masks, to help control the spread of Covid-19.

It now says we should all wear them in public and this contradicts what it said before. In Australia we have also followed the advice not to wear face masks in public, although several news sources have been reporting the debate about this in the last few days. The World Health Organisation is now reviewing its position.

There have been a few strong arguments against their use. Mainly,

  • The masks need to be kept for the healthcare workers who need them most, and who have been unable to get access to them. In some Australian cases this is because their own supplies have been stolen from hospitals and in others it is because the world supply of masks is low, so our stockists can’t get them from their usual overseas suppliers.
  • Masks won’t stop you from catching Covid-19, because you can’t create a complete seal around the face, so the virus can still get in. It will also get on to your face from your fingers when you fiddle with the mask, so in some cases it’ll fast track it.
  • If your mask hasn’t been washed in a while, it could be holding more germs, including the Covid-19 virus, than it is protecting you from.

So this means that until now, when we’ve looked at people in the street wearing face-masks it’s been easy to see them as at best misguided and at the worst a little paranoid.

But a few weeks further along, the infections in the world from Covid-19 have topped the 1,285,285 mark. (It took several months to get to around 600,000 and then one week to double to that figure.) There have been more than 70,344 deaths.

Unfashionable as it has been, researchers are now pointing out that the face mask is better than nothing since it stops the virus from being projected many metres. It also contains the spit, so it serves an adjunct purpose to social distancing – that is stopping the light, air-borne virus from getting into the atmosphere. It’s not perfect, but if everybody did it, the need for social distancing would be substantially lessened.

In addition, there is now evidence that when people don’t appear to have symptoms, they can still be positive for the virus, so the time we’re spreading it is when we are active and walking around.

To the argument about depleting the supply needed for nurses and doctors. Yes, that’s a good one. But theirs need to be of a higher standard. So yes, let’s save the higher grade masks for the hospital staff – and get our sewing machines out and make masks out of all that old fabric we’ve got lying around from all our excess clothes. That’s what Bibi Sheonarine did. She’s photographed here by Irfan Khan of the Los Angeles Times.

For the reports on this, go to the following:

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