While face masks do not guarantee 100% protection for the wearer, they still considerably reduce the likelihood of transmission
Since there is no vaccine or cure against the deadly Covid-19 and the infection rate is intensifying in Bangladesh, experts suggest using masks to cover the face to curb the spread of coronavirus in the country.
With various media reports speaking of the government’s mulling a withdrawal of the ongoing general holiday in the country after the Eid-ul Fitr vacation, an adherence to health guidelines, especially through wearing face masks, is key to flattening the curve of Covid-19 infections.
As people return to work, mass use of face masks might help to reduce a likely increase in transmission. South Korea and Hong Kong have managed to limit their Covid-19 outbreaks without lockdown as use of masks in public is universally practiced in these two places.
More than 50 countries worldwide, including Germany, France, Qatar, Israel, Argentina, Poland, Uganda, Luxembourg, Morocco, Cuba, Turkey, Colombia and Vietnam have made it mandatory for people to cover their faces when they leave home.
Importance of wearing cloth face masks
Virologist Dr Nazrul Islam of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU) told Dhaka Tribune that surgical masks and N-95 masks were not reusable but cloth face masks could be reused after washing.
“The best mask type against Covid-19 is N-95, but given that not everybody in Bangladesh can afford those, a cloth face mask could be a solution,” he said.
The N95 mask effectively prevents viral spread. These masks, when properly fitted, seal closely to the face and filter out 95% of particles 0.3 microns or larger. But N95 masks are in serious shortage even for medical professionals.
A randomized controlled trial (RCT) on mask usage conducted in 2008 revealed that the use of masks in households to prevent respiratory virus transmission could cause an 80% reduction in contracting respiratory illness.
However, this study along with other studies on masks was conducted to learn about the efficacy of masks in reducing the risk of respiratory infection in healthcare workers. No data can be found on the efficacy of cloth masks.
While face masks do not guarantee 100% protection for the wearer, they still considerably reduce the likelihood of transmission.
WHO recommends that cloth masks are not for those who are in contact with Covid-19 patients, health workers and Covid-19 patients themselves.
The World Health Organization’s advice is: “If you are healthy, you only need to wear a mask [medical mask] if you are taking care of a person with Covid-19.”
However, Dr Islam suggested that everyone in Bangladesh should wear a mask when they leave home in most cities, particularly in Dhaka, where the population density is very high.
Benefits of wearing cloth face masks
According to infectious disease specialist Farhad Uddin Hasan Chowdhury Maruf of Dhaka Medical College Hospital, wearing a mask is one of the crucial measures to control the spread of Covid-19 because it is a respiratory disease.
“The virus can enter a host’s body through the eyes, nose or mouth from infected respiratory droplets. Therefore, covering your mouth could be an effective way to protect yourself,” he said.
He suggests that garment workers can sew their own masks in the factories and garment factory owners should consider producing masks on a massive scale so that Bangladesh does not have to deal with any shortage of supply.
As the whole world is experiencing a shortage of face masks, Bangladesh’s RMG sector can meet the demand for face masks for the masses. Such a move can also be a cost effective solution.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the US has recommended using cloth masks that include multiple layers of fabric.
Cloth face masks are reusable, but they must be properly washed in soap water before reuse.
Dr Islam said cloth face masks should be soaked in soap water for at least 30 minutes before washing to get rid of virus contamination, if there is any.
Authority raising awareness
Professor Dr Nasima Sultana, additional director general of the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), told Dhaka Tribune that it was difficult to make people follow health guidelines by imposing punishments of any sort.
“The law enforcing agencies are patrolling the streets and asking people to put on masks if they spot anyone with an uncovered face. We are working together but I do believe that raising awareness is the key,” she told this correspondent, adding that the Health Ministry was doing its part to encourage people to wear masks.
She said people also needed to understand that when they are indoors or in their apartment complexes, they are not completely safe from infection.
“If there is a single Covid-19 patient in a family, all family members and the infected person should wear masks indoors because there is a good chance of virus transmission when people are in close proximity to an infected person,” she said.
Masks need to be worn properly
Wearing masks will not protect anyone if people do not wear them in the right way.
As WHO recommends: “Cover your mouth and nose with a mask and make sure there are no gaps between your face and the mask.”
Dr Islam said he had noticed a lot of people wearing masks with their noses exposed.
“That’s not the right way to wear a mask, especially during a pandemic. The nose must be covered while you are wearing a mask,” he said.
He also suggested wearing glasses or sunglasses to shield the eyes from infected droplets.
“Glasses don’t really work as a complete barrier between the eyes and droplets but since everyone cannot afford goggles geared to ensuring complete eye protection, glasses will help,” he said.