Should people buy and use masks in public during this pandemic?


Fact Box

  • The WHO maintains that COVID-19 is not an “airborne” virus, meaning that it is primarily transmitted via droplets and not aerosols [1]. 
  • Some US healthcare workers have been advised to reuse personal protective equipment (PPE) like face masks in an attempt to preserve supplies [2].  
  • The Czech Republic and Slovakia have mandated that citizens wear face masks if going out in public during the coronavirus pandemic [3]. 
  • The CDC asserts that “...most facemasks do not effectively filter small particles from the air and do not prevent leakage around the edge of the mask when the user inhales [4].”

Amna (Yes)

Although the message from the WHO and the CDC has been unanimously against the public wearing masks for prevention of COVID-19, new evidence suggests that wearing them prevents community infection of the coronavirus. 

Initially, only symptomatic people were directed to wear surgical masks to prevent the exchange of virulent liquid emitted through sneezes and coughs [1]. The WHO specified that healthy individuals should not use masks, as there would be a shortage for healthcare providers [2]. In fact, the emphasis was placed on washing and sanitizing hands thoroughly [3]. However, this advice did not address the asymptomatic carriers of COVID-19, who are 25-59% of the contaminated [4]. They can be the reason for the community spread of the disease. 

Wearing masks helps the pandemic narrative shift from “survival of those with the fittest immune systems” to “herd prevention and immunity”. Helping and protecting others from avoidable diseases is the most basic responsibility for a member of any civilized society. The authorities are also changing their tune on the usage of masks in light of positive results from East Asia. President Trump even suggested scarves as a prevention measure [5]. Wearing masks also lowers the rate of influenza and seasonal allergy cases, which lessens the burden on the healthcare system and immune systems [6].

Robert Redfield, director of the CDC, who vehemently opposed public mask usage [7], changed his position on March 30th, stating that “the CDC was reviewing its guidelines and may recommend general mask use...against community infection [8]” After all, A 70% risk reduction for SARS--also a coronavirus--has also been reported as a result of wearing masks constantly [9].

Molly (Not)

The CDC does not recommend that the general public should wear masks during the COVID-19 pandemic, but rather that only the sick and those tending to them — such as doctors, nurses, and caretakers —

should [1]. Instead, they suggest that the most effective ways to prevent the spread of the virus are to wash one’s hands, disinfect often-used surfaces, and maintain social distancing guidelines [2]. Research reveals unconvincing data for the widespread use of masks as a means to prevent transmission of the virus [3]. Additionally, there is evidence to suggest that if an inexperienced user wears a mask, they will end up touching their face more due to making various adjustments to it [4]. Therefore, if a seemingly healthy person wears a mask primarily as a precaution, without exhibiting obvious symptoms, they unintentionally create more opportunities to contract the virus by touching their face, a pattern many experts advise against [5].

Furthermore, at a time when medical providers are experiencing a shortage of masks, Dr. Anthony Fauci, a leading expert on infectious diseases, stated at a White House press conference, “You don’t want to take masks away from the health care providers who are in real and present danger of getting infected. That would be the worst thing we could do” [6]. It is absolutely critical that healthcare workers have the protection they need to continue doing their life-saving work. They’re already taking extraordinary measures to utilize nearly unusable masks, those which have been soiled after working with multiple patients [7]. The general public is putting medical heroes on the frontlines at risk by taking desperately needed masks away from them.

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