Last night, the government placed Metro Manila in community quarantine after declaring COVID-19’s alert level at code red sublevel 2. The measure hopes to contain further spreading of the virus outside the capital.
With such a mandate, there’s an understandable urge to protect oneself and one’s family from contracting the disease. While it may seem like wearing a mask—be it surgical, N95 masks, respirator masks, pitta masks, etc.—could be an easy line of defense for when you want to step out of your home, recent reports advise that you don't really need it—not if you’re perfectly healthy, anyway.
This especially holds true for those who think hoarding surgical masks is a bright idea. It’s not. In fact, according to infection prevention specialist Eli Perencevich, MD, putting on a mask frequently might even increase your risk of catching coronavirus. “There’s no evidence that wearing masks on healthy people will protect them. They wear them incorrectly, and they can increase the risk of infection because they’re touching their face more often,” Dr. Perencevich told Forbes.
Here’s the thing: The virus isn’t airborne but, instead, is transmitted through droplets. Which means that COVID-19-positive patients can infect others by sneezing, coughing, dripping, or exhaling. Surgical masks, however, were made to contain droplets from the inside, and so subsequently do not work to keep them out. That said, it’s safer to leave wearing masks to actual sick people, especially those currently battling the flu, rather than mass buying them for ourselves over sheer panic.
Aside from only wearing them when you’re sick with coughs and colds, Dr. Perencevich reiterates that they’re also greatly needed by those on the frontlines, a.k.a. health and social workers, as well as those caring for their ill family members at home. Meaning, if the aforementioned people have a difficult time procuring masks for themselves, the community is then placed at a higher risk.
Now, if you’re wondering about the actual precautionary measures to take to stay healthy and safe from the virus, then it’s actually quite simple: Regularly wash your hands with soap!
“Sounds banal, but soap really is an amazing weapon that we all have in our homes. This is because coronavirus is an 'enveloped' virus, which means that it has an outer lipid membrane layer,” explained Karen Fleming, PhD, a biophysics professor at John Hopkins University in the United States.
She continues, “Basically, it's surrounded by a fat layer. Washing your hands with soap and water has the ability to 'dissolve' this greasy fatty layer and kill the virus. I'm told singing 'Happy Birthday' twice is approximately how long we should all be scrubbing our hands with soap.” Alternatively, hand sanitizer will do if you don't have immediate access to soap when you're outside.
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