There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that wearing of facemasks may not be as effective as earlier envisaged in the containment of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The wearing of facemasks was made mandatory by the World Health Organisation (WHO) at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic which made almost every country in the world to adopt it as the lowest hanging fruit in the quest to curtail the spread of the disease. However, emerging information from studies found that contrary to claims that wearing facemasks is the Holy Grail in the battle to contain the spread of Covid-19 pandemic, the effectiveness of facemasks is over-exaggerated. Rather, washing hands regularly and keeping the fingers away from the eyes, nose offers a far more effective protection from the virus.
A study published in MEDRXIV, 22nd of June 2020, highlights the fact that wearing facemasks does not necessarily stop the spread of the virus. Also reports from Australia as late as April 2020 warned against the overdependence on facemasks as panacea to flattening the curve. Add to that, some medical experts warned that the wearing of facemasks may not be medically convenient for everybody as some people may suffer asphyxiation as a result.
In a report published by The National Centre for Biotechnology Information titled; “A rapid systematic review of the efficacy of face masks and respirators against coronaviruses and other respiratory transmissible viruses for the community, healthcare workers and sick patients” reveals that wearing facemasks is not without its own drawbacks. According to the report, for individuals suffering from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), face masks are intolerable to put on as they worsen their breathlessness. Additionally, a tiny proportion of carbon dioxide previously exhaled is inhaled at every respiratory cycle. Those two phenomena improve breath frequency and deepness, and thus they increase the amount of inhaled as well as exhaled air.
Also, as many people have reported around the world, prolonged use of facemasks is observed to cause headaches to some people. This position was confirmed by Dr. Byakodi who said that “long phase use of masks is able to lead to repeated and prolonged attacks of headaches.” Affirming this stand, Dr. Leann Poston added that “headaches might happen because of the band fitting around the top throughout the morning, anxiety from breathing through the mask, or perhaps small changes in oxygen as well as carbon dioxide levels in the blood.” There have been cases of development of Chronic Dermatitis. According to Dr. Sanul Corrielus, “for medical masks, the nonwoven cloth is created by using chemical substances to connect the fibres together. Some individuals will develop some type of dermatitis on the skin as an outcome of the repeated exposure,” this he said “can have long term effects in terms of scarring and recurrence of the epidermis around the face.”
Added to this is research findings showing that lower oxygen levels in the cells (hypoxia) is able to suppress some elements of the immune response. According to Dr. Esteban Kosak, “Scientific investigations have confirmed that an extended denial of sufficient oxygen inside the entire body is able to damage the capability of our body’s immune system to deal with infections and that is far worse with younger and older people.”
Moreso, facemasks can help spread other diseases if not properly washed. According to the United States Centre for Disease Control (CDC), facemasks need to be regularly washed based on the frequency of usage. A washing machine must be adequate in properly cleaning a face overlaying, and individuals must be mindful never to touch their eyes, nose, and lips when removing their face covering as well as clean hands right after removing.
As more people find faceshields more comfortable than facemasks, scientists have warned that it is important they equally appreciate the inherent weaknesses therein. According to a new study, faceshields offers less protection than cloth and surgical coverings. Face shields and masks with exhalation valves have become a popular alternative for people looking for protection against Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, but American research has cast doubt on their effectiveness.
Researchers from Florida Atlantic University examined the performance of face shields and exhalation valves in impeding the spread of aerosol-sized droplets – one of the main forms of Covid-19 transmission – with disturbing results. While clear plastic face shields blocked the initial forward motion of the jet of droplets, once expelled they were able to move around the visor relatively easily and spread out over a large area, according to the study published on September 1 in peer-reviewed scientific journal Physics of Fluids.
Scientists said they did the research to help the public understand the effectiveness of face shields and masks equipped with exhalation valves, increasingly popular substitutes for regular cloth or surgical masks because people find them more comfortable. Face shields reduce humidity and fogging when worn with glasses and are easier to breathe in. They also protect the eyes from splashes and sprays of infected droplets, are easily cleaned and disinfected, and allow visual communication for the hearing-impaired. Unfortunately, smaller aerosolised droplets can penetrate under the bottom of the shield and from the sides of the visor. The researchers found that, over an exposure lasting between one minute and half an hour, the shield was only 23 per cent effective in reducing the inhalation of droplets.
One-way exhalation valves, on the other hand, do not filter the breath of the wearer, potentially exposing other people to infected droplets. “Overall, the visuals presented here indicate that face shields and masks with exhale valves may not be as effective as regular face masks in restricting the spread of aerosolised droplets,” the study concluded, adding that US Centre for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines discourage the use of face shields as a sole means of virus prevention. The CDC also advises that masks equipped with exhalation valves should not be used when a sterile environment is required.
A Chinese expert, Gao Xiaodong, a hospital infection specialist from Shanghai Zhongshan Hospital, said he agreed with the American researchers that both face shields and masks with exhalation valves had limitations in stopping the spread of the virus. According to Gao, “it is safe to wear surgical masks inside the face shield,” adding that “face shields were invented, not to deal with patients with respiratory diseases, but to protect the wearer’s face from splashes and sprays of body fluids.” Gao said face shields came in different sizes and many people did not follow instructions on how to wear them correctly.