As people continue to shun non-pharmaceutical protocols of COVID-19 control such as social distancing, scientists have encouraged people to use medical-grade face masks as they mingle. As reported by the UK Guardian, scientists urged Britons to wear medical-grade masks when they cannot physically distance, amid growing concerns of faster-spreading COVID-19 variants.
The scientists, however, added that for anyone who may not have access to medical-grade face mask, any face covering is still better than none at all.
The medium also reported that, earlier in the week, French health officials had advised people to wear surgical masks rather than home-made fabric ones, noting that surgical masks afford greater protection against highly contagious new COVID-19 variants.
Germany went a step further and followed Austria and Bavaria in making it compulsory for full protective filtering face piece (FFP) masks to be worn on public transport and in shops.
Unlike fabric and surgical masks, which are designed to protect other people from larger respiratory droplets produced when we speak, cough or sneeze, FFP masks also protect the wearer because they filter both the inflow and outflow of air.
They also give a degree of protection against smaller droplets or aerosols, depending on the mask’s rating.
Scientists have long cautioned that masks alone will not prevent COVID-19 transmission, and should be combined with physical distancing and hand-washing.
Even so, “the research suggests that cloth face coverings are a useful tool in the fight against COVID-19 and help to reduce the risk of transmitting the virus”, said Prof Miles Carroll, head of research at Public Health England’s National Infection Service.
Yet, faced with more transmissible variants, some experts believe people should consider wearing medical-grade masks – particularly if they are likely to be in close proximity to other people indoors for extended periods of time.
“People should be using the best mask available to them, and the government should make it as clear as possible as to what this means,” said Dr. Allen Haddrell at the University of Bristol’s Aerosol Research Centre.
“Given the concern with how infectious this new strain appears to be, the goal of the French government is to try to limit the amount of viral aerosol exposure across the board,” he said.
“Increasing the number of people correctly wearing high-quality masks will dramatically limit the degree to which Sars-CoV-2 can be spread through the aerosol phase. No mask is 100 percent efficient, but some are definitely much less effective than others.”
The World Health Organisation currently recommends that medical or surgical masks should be worn by healthcare workers, people with COVID-19 symptoms, those caring for someone with suspected COVID-19, and anyone aged 60 or over, and those with underlying medical conditions where distancing of at least one metre cannot be achieved.
The medical mask is “widely recognised as a better and more standardised viral filter than most cloth masks”, said Trisha Greenhalgh, professor of primary care health sciences at Oxford University.
“Fabric masks are appropriate for most younger people, including those working as cashiers and in other service roles – but they should ideally have three layers,” the WHO said.