If we are to curve the COVID-19 curve, we will have to emulate the winners to date: China, Japan, Singapore and South Korea. They had four pillars of their success: massive tests, quarantine of positive patients, excellent traceability of contacts… and masks.
People wearing a mask outside the house.
It’s not new. A hundred and one years ago, it was common practice here in Canada during the last pandemic, but he fell out of favor. Indeed, this practice is currently not recommended by the WHO and Public Health Agency of Canada, who said there was insufficient evidence to make this recommendation.
However, the absence of evidence is not proof of absence. And since we don’t have the luxury of time to be sure, to conduct rigorous experiments, it makes more sense to err on the side of caution.
According to a Washington Post report Thursday, the US Centers for Disease Control is about to approve masking for the public, citing the precautionary principle. The report cites a document that the Post said it had obtained and that informed the White House: “In light of this new data, as well as evidence of widespread transmission in communities across the country, the CDC recommends l community use of cloth masks as additional public health. action people can take to prevent the spread of the virus to those around them. “
And in Canada, our Minister of Health and our public health officer have significantly softened their position this week, now declaring that wearing masks “can’t hurt. “
Our health systems are already suffering and it will only get worse if we don’t do everything we can. We call on the Public Health Agency of Canada and the World Health Organization to highlight the significant preventative potential of masks so that Canada is not left behind in this important public health measure.
Physical isolation remains the most important step at this point in the game. If you are not exposed to carriers, the risk essentially drops to zero. But not everyone has the opportunity to stay at home.
Health care workers (especially those working with the elderly), pharmacists, police and essential service workers such as grocery clerks and bus drivers cannot stay at home. Even ordinary people have to go out and buy supplies occasionally. And of course, people who don’t even have a home to hide are at exceptional risk.
These people need as much protection as possible.
Think of virus protection as a series of layers. The standard recommendations are quite powerful: frequent hand washing (or disinfection) and physical distancing.
Add masks add another potential layer of protection. Common sense would like you to wear a mask when you leave the house to prevent you from getting the infection. But it can also help an infected mask wearer without knowing it to spread the infection to others.
We are seeing more and more evidence of asymptomatic viral infections (up to 50%, based on research to date), so that these involuntary viral carriers are going outside, a mask can decrease the risk of passing the infection on to someone else.
Masks can help in two ways. The first would be to reduce the risk of a source patient (one with a virus) spreading the virus around them. If you are very close to another person, a mask can help limit the transfer of droplets (for example, coughing). Masks also limit the ability of an uninfected person to directly touch their mouth or nose with a contaminated hand (although they should be careful when touching or adjusting the mask).
More than just wearing the mask to protect yourself, you are wearing the mask to protect those around you.
Of course, if everyone had to wear a mask in Canada, it would be a lot of masks. We just don’t have many available yet, and the ones made should be reserved for those who need them most. The N95s are incredibly precious and irreplaceable for frontline workers, and even simple surgical masks will be missing. You want healthcare workers to be certain of this protection because they are the last line of defense when you get sick.
So, what to do?
First, set to work. There are simple models for fabric masks that are easy to sew, and with a small disposable filter insert and a flexible metal noseband, the the evidence suggests it’s better than nothing. Make it elegant! Make it for your friends!
We will also have to learn to be good mask users. Some advice: avoid touching the front of your mask. Carefully remove it from the back. Do not place it on countertops and other frequently touched surfaces. Wash your hands immediately after removing it. Make sure it is cleaned repeatedly, either with washing in hot soapy water, UV sunlight or some other mechanism. And then continue to wash your hands frequently.
Second, put the industry to work. There is real concerns on the possibility of obtaining masks outside the country, so we should start making our own. Taiwan now makes 13 million masks a day, for 30 million people. We can be just as industrious.
And as we increase our supply, we can move our citizens to these better quality masks without limiting healthcare workers’ access to these masks. Start by prioritizing those who need it most. Officials who are on the street every day. The frail or elderly, immunocompromised, anyone living in poverty. Those who live or work in homeless shelters are medically perched in a magazine and are at high risk of transmission.
Infection prevention is our best hope for protecting the most vulnerable among us and our collective well-being. Their health is our health.
And later, when the authorities give the green light, it is prudent to return to the streets and we crawl out of self-isolation in our houses, when we meet our neighbors, they will see our mask and will know that we we care enough to want to protect them. They will also be reminded, with this visual signal, to be careful and to keep our distance.
Because even after the virus has been defeated, it’s probably not going to go away for a long time. And it’s up to each of us to prevent further outbreaks, because we care about those around us.