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Why wear a mask?

The latest government advice is to consider wearing a face covering when you are in enclosed public spaces. Why do you think that is?  How is a mask working?

Coronavirus is predominantly droplet spread – coughing and sneezing – but there is some thought that it could be on our breath – so talking, smoking, exercising, etc. will move more air over a larger distance than breathing through your nose.  You can see how far this is on a cold frosty morning as you blow out to see your breath, which many of us will have done.

Coronavirus can take an average of 5 days for symptoms to appear – cough, shortness of breath, fever, chills, muscle pain, sore throat being the common ones.  It is, however, thought to be infectious up to 2 days before you have symptoms if, indeed, you have any.

This means that at any point in time we are going to be: had it, got it or don’t have it. But we won’t know we have had it until we have been tested and shown positive.  Up until that time we are in the groups of got it or not having it.

And here lies the uncertainty, the unknown, and the risk.

As we start to increase what we are doing the risk of coming into contact with coronavirus will also increase as we come into contact with more people.

If you go to a place where you can control who enters, where you know where they have been and how they have been spending the past few months in lock-down, shielding or self-isolation – you have a more informed idea of the risk that you are putting yourself at.

Enclosed areas, especially with poor ventilation, areas of high public through-put such as shops and public transport, will naturally increase your risk.

If a person is wearing a mask, is infectious yet asymptomatic, happens to cough or sneeze – then a mask will catch the droplets and stop or reduce the distance that they can travel.  If you cough or sneeze more than a few times in a mask it will get moist and lose its effectiveness. 

If you are unwell, coughing and sneezing, wearing a mask does not mean that you can go outside of your home.  You need to continue with the self-isolation. 

Unless you are wearing a medical grade mask with filters – and even then it is not 100% –  it will not stop you breathing in the virus because the coronavirus is microscopically small and can pass through the gaps in the fabric.  This is why medical health professionals who are treating symptomatic patients need these masks, and it is why they are getting ill as they are continually exposed to high levels of the virus in the environment.

I can see that things have the potential to get very nasty with people deciding whether or not to wear a mask.

The government states:

‘After careful consideration of the latest scientific evidence from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), the government confirmed face coverings can help reduce the risk of transmission in some circumstances.’

It also says:

‘They do not need to be worn outdoors, while exercising, in schools, in workplaces such as offices and retail, by those who may find them difficult to wear, such as children under two or primary aged children who cannot use them without assistance, or those who may have problems breathing while wearing a face covering.’

At this time we are all feeling vulnerable, and a way to make ourselves feel safer is to control our environment, which will include the external environment outside of our homes. At this time, we are reliant on others for our health.

And here is your choice, and I appreciate for some there may not be much of a choice, but you can decide how much and under what circumstances you wish to interact with life outside of your home.  The more opportunities we have to be exposed to the virus and/or the more concentrated the environment is (think about the time when you are allowed to smoke in pubs and what that environment was like) the greater the risk of developing Covid-19.  A mask will not make you immune to Covid-19.

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This article is written by Karen Robinson, Clinical Director and founder of Shefford Osteopathic Clinic.