Some cities in South Florida, such as Sunrise and Miramar, have now mandated the wearing of masks, bandanas or other face coverings in public spaces, bringing to the fore the debate over whether we need to wear masks as a means of ‘flattening the curve’ or containing the spread of COVID-19.
Many people are already practicing social distancing and hand-washing as recommended, but this is another layer of protection that the medical and scientific communities are now saying will have far-reaching positive effects.
This position did not arrive overnight, as reputable international organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) took ambivalent positions on such a need. But as the coronavirus crisis deepens—leaving in its terrible path painful stories of survival and heart-wrenching accounts of deaths—these positions have evolved to the point where both organizations now adopt a more pragmatic approach to dealing with this clear and present danger to humankind.
As late as March, both the WHO and the CDC’s position was that wearing masks was not necessary for the general population, except in situations where people were visibly sick especially with bouts of coughing. This position had its genesis in the stance taken by U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Jerome M. Adams, who early in February advisably warned against purchasing medical masks, noting that it would not aid in the prevention of the coronavirus. This was generally thought, in some quarters, to be a position born out of trying to reserve this special piece of PPE equipment for the health workers, who were on the frontline in the war against this pandemic.
So what has caused this sea-change in advice from global public health leadership which relies primarily on hard data and evidence in drawing their conclusions? It is the fact that the rate, widespread nature, and prevalence of COVID-19, confounded the previous ‘modeling’ that were available in the medical and scientific community.
WHO, also in February, made the important note that transmission of the dreaded virus via asymptomatic persons was ‘rare’ but had to backtrack on these statements soon after, when evidence to the contrary emerged very forcibly.
This was further confirmed by evidence presented by the CDC in late March, regarding the infection rate among the ‘ill-fated’ Diamond Princess cruise liner, which found out that among the 700 passengers and crew that were found to be infected, 46.5 percent did not have any symptoms of the COVID-19 when they were initially tested. The CDC then made the all-important deduction “that a high proportion of asymptomatic infections could partially explain the high attack rate among passengers and crew members.”
Carolyn Machamer, Professor of Cell Biology from John Hopkins School of Medicine and specialist in coronavirus, was very clear in her study about the possibilities of aerosolization of transmission of COVID-19, given the fact that it can last up to three hours in the air. Therefore, normal human actions such as speaking, coughing, sneezing are mediums through which transmission can occur.
It is therefore through an abundance of caution that the advocates argue that masks are now placed in the mix to bolster us from the asymptomatic carriers, who exhibit none of usual easily identifiable symptoms of cough, fever and muscle aches, but are nonetheless, significant transmitters of this dreaded disease.
Although the studies and the debate over the efficacy of using masks to help contain the virus are ongoing, what is unquestionable is that using masks in this fight is better than not using anything at all. The barrier which it provides you from being ‘showered’ during normal speaking with an individual, much less when you are the unfortunate recipient of a sneeze or cough, could mean the difference between ending up being hospitalized or suffering excruciating pain, discomfort or death, as is the case in the present situation.
Furthermore, this very normal practice of covering your nose and mouth to prevent droplets whenever we sneeze or cough is a normal part of one’s day-to-day activity, which is only being enhanced by a mask in these challenging times of COVID-19. We are only doing our community and ourselves a world of good, as wearing a mask is a low-risk intervention in staunching the spread of this virus.
When we all don a mask, we are not only protecting ourselves, we are protecting everyone in our community.