The UK government is now adopting measures that recommend wearing masks to help reduce the spread of covid-19. Local doctors agree masks are a useful tool in the battle against coronavirus and one doctor even suggests wearing glasses could reduce a person’s chances of infection.
New government advice
“The Scottish Government is now recommending the use of face coverings.”
The UK government’s plan to step out of lockdown was presented in ‘project restart’. A 50page document published at the beginning of May which includes two sections on recommending people wear masks in situations where social distancing is difficult.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon called on Scots to wear masks as far back as April saying: “We are recommending that you wear a cloth face covering if you are in an enclosed space with others. So the Scottish Government is now recommending the use of face coverings in these limited circumstances as a precautionary measure.”
Doctors “absolutely, totally and entirely” recommend using masks
“Do not forget that the eye is also a portal of the infection. If you want to give yourself even more protection wear some sort of glasses.”
Local and regional doctors in the North East have all backed the idea to encourage the use of face masks. An ENT surgeon who has worked at Albyn Hospital for over 25years Dr Akhtar Hussein says wearing masks should have been advised at the beginning of the pandemic by a government he believes has “lost focus” in advising the country on what to do during the crisis.
Dr Hussein said: “The government for whatever reason is not focused but essentially masks have been demonstrated in East Asia, during SARS and MERS, that they are a very good thing and I believe people should have been advised to wear them at the very beginning of the pandemic. Right now masks should be mandatory especially in situations where social distancing is either difficult or impossible.”
Trainee ENT specialist at Raigmore Hospital Dr Fergus Cooper says masks certainly have a role to play.
Dr Cooper said: “They almost certainly play a roll in people that are asymptomatic carriers and people who have mild symptoms, preventing them spreading it because their nose and mouth is covered.”
Do masks make a difference?
“The government for whatever reason is not focused but essentially masks are a good thing.”
Wearing masks in public is a common cultural custom in Asia but in the West there is suspicion with stigma attached to covering one’s face in public and questions over whether masks actually do anything. Dr Cooper’s answer to the question do they help is “yes.”
Dr Cooper said: “The short answer is probably yes as to do they work. Masks will catch coughs, sneezes, and aerosols generated that might normally have been passed on to someone else.”
Dr Hussein warns masks could cause some discomfort by reducing airflow when breathing.
Dr Hussein said: “The limit on the mask is when you breath out there will be resistance to airflow to a degree. For the vast majority of people this is not a problem but people with respiratory diseases such as obstructive pulmonary disease (OPD), this might cause some distress.”
Covid in tears
Dr Hatem Atta who served as an ophthalmologist (eye surgeon) in the Grampian area for thirty years reminds people that the virus is also contracted through the eye.
Dr Atta said: “Do not forget that the eye is also a portal of the infection. If you want to give yourself even more protection wear some sort of glasses along with a mask. Shades or goggles are good. Cycling glasses that go round the eyes also work well.
Dr Atta explained further how covid is caught through the eyes.
He said: “There is a little opening in the inner side of your eyelid. You won’t be able to see it but that is the opening of your tear tract and that is where the virus gets in. The tear tract goes from your eye into your nose. If you use eye drops, after five minutes you will taste them in the back of your throat. So the eye is connected to your nose and this is how the virus can get into your body.”
Aerosol spray the issue
One of the issues with masks is there are not many that protect from aerosol spray which is the finest particles of the virus found in coughs and sneezes. Dr Cooper explained aerosol particles are measured in microns when making medical grade masks.
Dr Cooper said: “Aerosol particles can fit through the gaps of whatever material a mask is made of so technically aerosols can still be inhaled through a regular mask. Filters in medical grade masks such as FFP3 are a certain width measured in microns because they are so fine.”
Recommendations on making home-made masks
Dr Hussein believes it makes “no sense” that home-made masks were not designated as mandatory at the beginning of the crisis. He recommends a bed sheet as the ideal material to make masks.
Dr Hussein said: “When you design the mask make it rectangular. Basically the material should not be too thick. Natural material is better and two layers of material minimum are necessary. The best material is a bed sheet. A DIY mask will be practically just as good to filter the vast majority of pathological and bacterial viruses.
Dr Cooper advised that if you choose to wear a mask remain conscious not to touch your face.
Dr Cooper said: “The one main concern I have about masks is when I have seen people going around the shops the masks start slipping down their face and people start touching and fumbling with them and therefore they are going to be touching their face. This will actually increase your risk of getting the virus.
“Masks should be comfortable and well fitted enough to stop you touching your face. I also recommend that they be single use because when you take off the mask the outside could potentially be contaminated.”
No matter what, still observe social distancing.
All three doctors agreed social distancing is the first defence against catching covid-19. Just because someone has started wearing a mask does not mean they can ignore social distancing rules. Dr Cooper expressed his concerns saying mask or no mask keep 2metres apart.
Dr Cooper said: “A problem with masks is people wearing them ignoring social distancing. People suddenly think they are invincible to the virus because they have a mask on. I want to make it clear, mask or no mask, you should still be abiding to social distancing.”