Since it was first discovered in Wuhan, China, the coronavirus put health authorities everywhere on high alert. We had barely had enough time to properly decode the virus’ symptoms before the word ‘pandemic’ was being thrown around. Soon the world would lockdown, and everything pretty much changed.
As health authorities struggled to exert some control over the virus, the first safety measure they suggested and soon enforced to stop further spread was wearing a nose and mouth covering. But can wearing masks really stop the spread of the coronavirus that causes Covid-19?
Wearing Masks Can Help Slow the Spread of Covid-19
The World Health Organization (WHO), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the USA, and many national health bodies all agree that wearing masks can slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Wearing masks works even better when used with other preventive measures, including sanitizing hands and surfaces, vaccination, and maintaining a physical distance when out in public. There’s no doubt that this cocktail of measures did help save many lives where they are well-enforced, especially as vaccines took so long to develop and distribute equitably.
Having said that, masks are only as effective as long as they are worn correctly, removed safely, and changed frequently. It is critical for maximum protection against the virus that the mask covers both the mouth and nose!
Since the mask is supposed to filter virus-harboring saliva droplets and prevent them from entering the body through the mouth or nose, one must remove the mask and dispose of it with care. Otherwise, they can contaminate themselves by touching the mask, which in the absence of proper hygiene will defeat the whole purpose of wearing one. And therein lies the challenge with masks.
Keen to test the effectiveness of wearing masks as a Covid-19 preventive measure, many studies conducted since the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic subsequently found that masks were indeed more effective and underestimated.
Different Masks Provide Different Degrees of Protection Against Covid-19
A general consensus that masks can help slow the spread of coronavirus that was spiraling out of control and the mask mandates that followed meant there wouldn’t be enough face masks to go around.
The immediate, unprecedented rush on available mask supplies left many people with little choice but to use any cloth they could find and sew masks they could wear to protect themselves and ensure compliance with the mask mandates. Predictably, the WHO was quick to caution on the importance of wearing the right type of masks.
The WHO advised that cloth masks not be made out of thin cloth as they cannot effectively filter the virus-containing mucus droplets out. The World Health body was also quick to recommend that the scarce supplies of surgical grade N95 face masks be reserved for frontline health workers who faced the greatest risk of contracting the virus.
Add the fact that most of the masks that people have been wearing cannot be certified as 100 percent effective at stopping the contraction of coronavirus and it is easy to see why many people have questioned the effectiveness of wearing masks as a Covid-19 preventive measure.
With all the arguments for and against masks, it is perhaps more accurate to conclude that masks do not stop the spread of coronavirus completely but can slow it down significantly. So some health experts have offered a compelling and perhaps more accurate conclusion on the debate:
Masks Are More Effective At Preventing Asymptomatic Individuals from Passing the Virus To Others
As clear as it is that people wearing masks need to be vigilant and careful to effectively protect them from catching Covid-19 and slowing its spread, many experts are now reframing the mask argument.
While they don’t work as well for protecting non-sufferers from catching the virus, they work a lot better at preventing those that have it from transmitting it to others. Masks can effectively trap aerosols of virus-carrying mucus droplets when the person coughs or sneezes. This will then stop them from passing the virus to people who may be in close proximity.
Masks work especially well with asymptomatic individuals who may not even know they are carrying the virus. By simply wearing a mask a person that does not show symptoms and can’t be infected by the virus can protect symptomatic people from catching the virus and possibly spreading it to others.
So what are we saying?
The message that should perhaps be going out is for people to help protect others from Covid-19 by wearing masks. By doing this, we will in effect put the brakes on the spread of coronavirus and hopefully get back to the lives we were forced to put on hold in 2019.