Masks no substitute for social distancing

Masks no substitute for social distancing

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Respiratory protection researcher Professor Ben Mullins.

With Australia facing a lack of surgical face masks, the debate continues as to whether or not everyone should use face masks amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

A Curtin University respiratory protection researcher and associate professor Ben Mullins said there is no need for healthy people to wear a mask of any kind.

“It is more important to stay at least two-metres away from others,” he said.

“The best mask is still no substitute for maintaining effective social distancing or isolation.

“Anyone who is coughing or sneezing – or has been diagnosed with COVID-19, should wear a surgical mask or a medical type N95 mask, without an exhalation valve.

“Anyone caring for someone with COVID-19 in the community should wear a
N95 or N99 respirator at minimum.”

Flat surgical type masks only stop large droplets expelled by the wearer but has limited protection to the wearer and particles coming in.

N95 and N99 masks are effective against droplets and reasonably effective against individual virions but only if worn tightly sealed against the face, and in the case of men, it is important to be clean shaven.

Despite the World Health Organisation (WHO) currently advising likewise, some world researchers believe face masks can help reduce the spread of the virus in the community.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) recently found that a gas cloud produced from a cough or a sneeze may help the virus particles travel up to eight-metres which is not currently stated in the WHO guidelines, according to MIT professor Lydia Bourouiba.

Ms Bourouiba said she was concerned about the current concept of safe distances and said that staying one to two metres apart will not necessarily stop the virus from infecting people, especially when it comes to poorly ventilated rooms.

As a result of the new study, the former director of the WHO said last week that the organisation would be looking at new evidence to see whether or not there should be a change in the way it’s recommending masks should be used.

Over one million face masks, 580,000 surgical gloves, 40,000 isolation gowns and more were delivered to Western Australia this week after the WA Health Department managed to find supplies during the pandemic.