Categories: Covid19Global

To wear a mask or not to wear a mask

The Coronavirus Pandemic has raised consciousness regarding preventive measures in containing the virus. Without the pharmaceutical measure, such as a vaccine or an effective medication, the guaranteed solution lies with the non-pharmaceutical intervention. Keeping a physical distance of 2 meters, frequent handwashing and wearing a face mask have all been the best preventive measures so far to keep people from contracting the coronavirus.

Research states, lower respiratory tract infections are the third most common cause of death worldwide. Now with the catastrophic outbreak of the Coronavirus worldwide, deaths from lower respiratory tract infections are likely to rank higher amongst the worst killers. Though this pandemic has been the far worst this century, it is not the first time the world has faced the worry of containing such a deadly pathogen. Whether it was the seasonal flu or influenza epidemic in the past, humans have suffered sickness and death. Each time scientists and health care professionals come up with a vaccine to prevent an epidemic, a new strain of a different virus emerges.

Today, we face a global pandemic that was initially reported from Wuhan a few months ago.  It has risen worldwide insecurity of contracting the virus while going out. Though science has proven preventive measures such as wearing the mask can reduce the chances of contracting the coronavirus, it still does not assure complete protection.

Countries from around the world have imposed protective measures with various levels of restrictions to curb the spread of the virus. People have been wearing masks while going grocery shopping, at small gatherings, and even while shopping at a busy market place, all the while ignoring other means of preventive measures.

So if ignoring preventive measures such as keeping a distance of 6 meters seems okay, why do people wear a mask at all? Does it seem to give a false sense of security to stay protected from contracting the coronavirus? Or are people not aware of the means through which they contract the coronavirus in the first place? Even when the Whitehouse was given a memo that stated “As an additional layer of protection, we are requiring everyone who enters the West Wing to wear a mask or face covering”, President Donald Trump continued to downplay the need to wear a face mask. With the President of the United States ignoring the need to wear a mask, it does raise a question as to why he disagrees with wearing one?

One thing is for sure, experts agree all face masks do provide a varying range of protection and therefore recommend everyone to wear them. No matter how it affects human behavior, or what misconceptions people have, or what kinds of conspiracy theories they believe in, face masks are one of the most important means of staying protected from contracting the coronavirus and wearing them will keep people protected.

What does research suggest?

According to research on the use of surgical masks, there wasn’t much reduction in spread of flu-like illnesses; however, it did show a marked difference in the prevention  of contracting illness when people who wore a mask also sanitized their hands frequently.  This proves, adhering to all preventive measures rises the probability of protection from contractible illnesses.  According to Aiello who co-wrote the research article stated that “Across these studies, it’s quite consistent that there is some small effect and there’s no risk associated with wearing masks.” So even if the benefit of wearing a face mask is not great, it has no side effects to using it.

In a trial conducted among family members with children suffering from influenza-like illnesses, it showed that those who adhered to wearing face masks were more protected from contracting the illness than those who did not wear one.

Though no research has been conducted on wearing face masks during a pandemic, scientists find it hard to conclude exactly how beneficial face masks are in a real-life pandemic. With no harmful effects attached to wearing a face mask, scientists state wearing a face mask at this point should be recommended as it is evident wearing face masks will only provide benefits rather than harm.

Are cloth face masks safe to wear?

A research conducted in 2013 pillowcases and 100% cotton T-shirts with stretchable material were effective in providing a barrier to air droplets. Though only a third as effective as surgical face masks, the homemade face masks do provide some form of protection. With limited face masks available to health personnel as well, the CDC has currently recommended the use of bandanas and scarves if they run out of medical-grade face masks. The cloth face masks are not considered part of the personal protective equipment but are still recommended because even a small amount of barrier from infected air droplets is better than a no barrier at all.

The false sense of security

According to researchers who study behavioral insights, the false sense of security arises from the common unintended consequences. Though the intentions are right, the solutions do come with problems. Since there has been less research done on the false sense of security related to the face masks, a similar example of crosswalks can be taken. According to research conducted on the utilization of crosswalks, people tend to feel more secure when taking on crosswalks even though drivers tend to go faster on certain types of crosswalks. Such kind of research has made researchers believe the crosswalks do create a false sense of security which is quite similar to the one created when wearing a face mask.

It is the unintended consequences people ignore while wearing face masks which makes them more reckless instead of taking care as they feel protected. It is however true wearing a face mask does have benefits in protecting against flu-like illnesses but adopting other protective measures such as a safe distance of 6 meters, regularly washing hands, and avoiding touching the face provide better protection altogether. If people ignore these preventive measures they are more vulnerable to contracting the virus. Either way adhering to protective measures is still better than no protection at all.

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Published by
Nafeesa Tariq

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