If both persons near each other wear masks, the risk decreases significantly. The risk is also reduced if the mask is of high quality and well-fitting; and will protect those who wear it.
December 15, 2022 — The decline in COVID-19 cases and deaths has led President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. to sign Executive Order No. 7 on Oct. 28, 2022 allowing the voluntary use of face masks indoors and outdoors except in hospitals, medical facilities, or public transportations. To address the confusion due to the EO, the Stop C.O.V.I.D. Deaths Webinar No. 125 tackled the topic, “To Mask or Not To Mask” during its Nov. 11 edition.
“The benefits of masking are to block exhaled virus (source control) and (filtration) protection or reduction of the inhaled virus by the wearer. Source control and filtration work together synergistically; and increasing this benefit is [through] increasing the number of people wearing masks correctly and consistently,” according to Dr. Marissa Alejandria, director of UP Manila National Institutes of Health’s Institute of Clinical Epidemiology. “Wearing masks does not have side effects; it is generally safe and does not affect our breathing. We encourage everyone to continue to wear masks indoors.”
With the pandemic not yet over and variants and sub-variants emerging, and with vaccines effective only in preventing hospitalization and deaths but not transmission; Dr. Alejandria more emphatically pointed out the benefits of mask wearing.
The infectious disease expert cited the factors that lower or increase the risk of transmission of COVID-19. One is length of exposure such that the longer the exposure, the greater the risk of transmission. Others are coughing, singing, shouting, or heavy breathing that can produce droplets and increase the risk of transmission.
“Compared to our Alpha and Delta variants, the latest variant BA.5, the predominant variant under Omicron, with descendants XBB, XBC, and BQ.1 prove that transmission of the virus is ongoing. They are more highly transmissible but the cases are predominantly mild, especially among those who are vaccinated and boosted.” She added that as new variants emerge, the coronavirus’ mode of transmission remains the same through aerosol and droplets that affect our respiratory system.
“Avoid directing fans toward people because contaminated air may be blown their way. Consider using a portable air cleaner and exhaust fans.”
Dr. Alejandria explained that being exposed to someone who has symptoms increases the risk of transmission. If both persons near each other wear masks, the risk decreases significantly. The risk is also reduced if the mask is of high quality and well-fitting; and will protect those who wear it. People need to choose a mask with multiple layers to keep their droplets in and other’s droplets out, and a nose wire to prevent air from leaking out from the top.
“Wearing masks should be for anyone who has symptoms, is immunocompromised, has comorbidities, is elderly, or lives with them,” she emphasized.
She added that good ventilation can lower the risk of transmission, and this can be through turning a fan toward an open window and blowing air outside. Avoid directing fans toward people because contaminated air may be blown their way. Consider using a portable aircleaner and exhaust fans.
"Distance also plays a role", she said, "as being closer to someone infected with COVID-19 increases the risk of transmission."
She enjoined people to protect themselves by getting vaccinated and boosted and by getting tested, staying at home when sick, practicing cough etiquette and frequent hand washing, disinfecting surfaces on a regular basis, avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated areas, and keeping a physical distance.
According to Dr. Ralph Elvi Villalobos, consultant, PGH Division of Pulmonary Medicine and a reactor during the forum, using face masks can also protect from other respiratory infectious illnesses like influenza and pneumonia, aside from COVID- 19. It will also help patients who have to deal with air pollution, asthma, and emphysema triggers.
“Public health is a shared responsibility. Let us all work together for safe, COVID-19-free environments,” Dr. Alejandria urged the public.
Erlyn May Pareja