27th April 2020 – Drive through COVID-19 test stations must not contribute to transmission.

A Blog by Dr David J Flavell PhD FRCPath & Dr Sopsamorn (Bee) Flavell BSc PhD
Scientific Directors of Leukaemia Busters

27th April 2020

Drive Through Testing Dangers

This evening a BBC 1 South Today news item from reporter Briony Leyland filled us with trepidation and we have to admit a little bit of anger. In the report Briony interviewed motorists who had come to the centre for testing because they had symptoms of COVID-19. For interview, the car’s occupants obligingly wound their windows down to be interviewed by Briony, she was wearing a proper FFP3 mask but they were bare faced. When interviewed they spoke towards the camera through an open window stating that they had come to the centre because they had symptoms of COVID-19. None of these potentially infected individuals was wearing a face mask. A cut away shot of Briony later speaking to camera in the testing centre revealed that she was not wearing a mask nor were any of the car marshaling staff that were seen in the piece. We find it hard to accept that people with suspected COVID-19 infections are driving to centres unmasked and that some personnel working the area also remained unmasked.

Now it was certainly the case that Briony was keeping the mandatory two metre distance from these potentially COVID-19 infected individuals but regular readers of these blogs will know that we are of the opinion that 2 metres is an insufficient distance when it comes to atomised droplet projection straight through the cars side window. Very recent high quality scientific evidence from The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has shown that the carry distance of the infectious plume of droplet infection from speaking, coughing, sneezing or just breathing can extend to over 8 metres for extended periods of time. It has brought home to us yet again the foolishness of our government in failing to recommend the use of face masks to attenuate transmission from infected individuals. We continually find ourselves asking the question why is it that the UK government stubbornly refuse to accept or act on this obvious and simple low tech method to bring matters under better control.

Read our blogs on this subject (Unmasking the Myths, Face Mask Dithering and More on Face Masks)  to understand the rationale behind face mask use to reduce infection transmission rates regardless of what the UK government and advisers state or the WHO recommend.  It is an indisputable and proven fact that simple face mask use does reduce infection transmission in influenza epidemics and is therefore also very likely to do so for COVID-19. We shall continue to campaign on this subject in the hope that the UK government and its advisers will wake up to the fact that this really will make a difference if mandatory face mask use is made a requirement in public spaces when (but  preferably before) lock down restrictions are eased.

We have already had the wit to identify a company in Thailand who can supply washable reusable 3-layer high quality face masks for only 67 pence each (less than the cost of a first class stamp!) in large volumes (millions of masks) to supply the British public at this point in time. Once again we run the risk of missing the boat if action isn’t taken very soon and this Thai supplier will be in high demand to supply other countries at our loss. Already we have had a dialogue about this with Hilary Benn MP who initially showed an interest after his question in the House last week together with other MP’s at Westminster.

Already we have sent a clear and strong open letter about this to the main government protagonists but alas the lines of communication have fallen silent. Sadly this is a story that we are hearing all too commonly with regard to front line PPE in general during this pandemic as exposed in tonight’s BBC Panorama Programme Has the Government Failed the NHS?We send a clear signal to the UK government once again together with the message that they have not heard the last from us on the matter of face mask use, not because we wish to be a nuisance but because we are totally convinced that this will make a difference and we therefore have a moral obligation to follow this conviction.

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