Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine, Dr Zulfikar Bux is of the belief that if everyone wears a mask, it will slow down the transmission of the deadly Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).
He said that Guyana is now beginning to see its share of the infection, and given the global devastation of this pandemic, the country needs to prepare for the “worst and hope for the best”. He postulated that since the country is still in the early phases of this infection, its best chance of preventing a disaster, lies in preventing its spread as much as possible. He is of the opinion that masks should be worn by all.
He quoted a recent research that was done by the Columbia University which found that when the coronavirus infection initially took off in China, 86% of the cases were “undocumented”- that is, asymptomatic or only had mild symptoms. They found that while these asymptomatic people were only 55% as contagious as symptomatic people, they were the source of 79% of further infections.
Still referencing the research, Dr Bux said that there are many people who are spreading the infection but do not have any symptoms. To add to this complexity, the doctor said that researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of technology (MIT) found that viral droplets expelled from coughs and sneezes can travel in moist, warm atmosphere at speeds of 10-30 meters per second, creating a cloud that can span 7-8 meters. Researchers also found that droplets circulate from people’s mouth when they speak or sing.
“Now, how can we combat this in the social space when we were initially told one meter was sufficient? The simplest and most logical answer is for us all to wear mask once we are leaving our home,” he argued.
While admitting that wearing regular masks do not guarantee that someone will be free from catching the COVID-19 infection, it does increase the likelihood of preventing spread to the entire population.
Dr Bux says that wearing a mask will:
• Stop infected persons from expelling the coronavirus;
• Help remind you to not touch your face and therefore, decrease the risk of you getting the infection into your body; and
• If you still get infected while wearing the mask, there is a much better chance of starting with a lower inoculum of the virus and a better disease outcome.
Dr Bux noted that a few weeks ago, the Government of the Czech Republic initiated a mandatory regulation which made everyone wear a mask when they leave home. Almost 100% of the country responded and they are now boasting of an 80% decrease in the coronavirus spread. Other countries are also taking similar steps and seeing lower rates of infection.
While admitting that mask shortages is a challenge worldwide, persons can use cloth made of cotton and sew two layers together, attach a hairpin to adjust it to fit your nose, and attach two elastic hair ties to fit on your ears. There are numerous videos on YouTube that show how to make a facemask even with coffee filters, he said.
Dr Bux clarified that wearing a face mask does not mean business as usual. He said that social distancing should still be practices, along with the recommended hygienic practices.
“Stay home if you don’t have to be out. Wearing a facemask does not mean that you can go about without necessity. It is therefore very evident that if everyone wears a mask, we will be able to drastically slow this infection and prevent many complications and deaths. We have all seen what the COVID19 (coronavirus) infection is doing worldwide. Guyana and Guyanese are not immune to this infection. Let’s be responsible and fight this together before it’s too late and we are all overwhelmed and affected. Let’s start the ‘everyone wears a mask campaign’ in Guyana,” he said.