By Dr Kathryn Mainstone, NCWQ Health Adviser

Wearing Masks

As more has been found out about the SARS-CoV-2 virus over time, our routines outlined by government have changed. Recently, over 200 scientists from all over the world have written to the WHO, emphasizing that SARS-CoV-2 may not simply be spread by large droplets, as had previously been believed, but that it could have been spread by smaller aerosolized particles, which may travel distances greater than the current 1.5 metres deemed to be safe and may be situated within interior spaces for hours after being exhaled. This made wearing masks seem possible as a preventive measure, in addition to social distance and hand hygiene.

An anecdotal but compelling study from Missouri talks about the case of two hairdressers who had COVID-19 and continued to work for some days after becoming infectious. The hairdressers wore masks because it was mandatory in their states to do so, as did their 139 clients, who must have had close contact with the hairdressers. None of their clients caught COVID-19 but they did pass it on to members of their family, with whom masks were not worn.

We currently do not know the risks associated with singing and playing musical instruments but researchers at Bristol University and Imperial College London are doing a scientific study at the moment to try and answer this very question. Inside a research lab, singers wearing medical scrubs sing and play Happy Birthday down a tube over and over again. Everything is being measured to see whether singing and talking are different, whether volume alters output and how much is emitted from simply breathing. Singers and musicians are also weighed to see if larger people may emit more breath vapour. It is hoped that this data will be available sometime after September.

There are three varieties of mask available, each offering a different level of personal protection. The P2/N95 mask is more expensive but given about 95% protection if it is fitted correctly; this is the one used in the areas of highest vulnerability such as intensive care units within hospitals. The cheaper surgical mask option offers about 60% protection. The home-made cloth masks, made from three different layers of material, offer about 40-50% protection. These can be washed at above 60 Celsius and reused.

The most important reason that one wears a mask is to protect those around one, especially if one becomes an asymptomatic sufferer and never develops a reason to be tested. COVID-19 may spread in this manner up to 40% of the time, which makes it very challenging to contain once spread and it has overwhelmed the tracing mechanisms.

The above information was taken from the following sources:

1. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/14/health/coronavirus-hair-salon-masks.html

2. https://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-53446329

3. https://www.dhhs.vic.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/202007/Design%20and%20preparation%20of%20cloth%20mask_0.pdf

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