It is looking likely that face mask use will turn out to be the most important tool in controlling person to person transmission of COVID-19 in the community – 26 September 2020

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

Resurgence

It is looking likely that face mask use will turn out to be the most important tool in controlling person to person transmission of COVID-19 in the community. Government procrastinations and subsequent delays in making face mask use mandatory in community settings has almost certainly resulted in larger numbers of cases and resultantly cost lives. Now as a second wave of COVID-19 approaches, face mask use has to be urgently extended further, something that can only be achieved through government action backed up by clear educational messages.

Six months on from the original national lockdown and it is hardly surprising that we are seeing a resurgence of COVID-19 infection rates. As we and many others warned, as lockdown was eased, unless certain measures were rigorously enforced and adhered to by the general population, a resurgence was very likely; that is exactly what we are seeing now.

An Opportunity Lost

The benefits of bringing the virus under control through a total national lockdown earlier in the year seem to have been lost, almost certainly because lockdown was eased too quickly and/or inappropriately, compounded by poor behaviour from a minority of the general population. Throughout the summer we have all seen the images of packed beaches, house parties, revellers at illegal raves, demonstrators at public protests and a general flouting of social distancing guidelines by some. All have contributed to the increased transmission levels that have brought us to the situation we face once again today.

Masks Save Lives

Since the beginning of April we and many others have argued continuously that face mask use would be an important, possibly the most important tool in helping reduce transmission of COVID-19 in the community. It was only in April that the UK government were dismissive telling us that the evidence for their benefit was weak, this at a time when the WHO was also mysteriously being ambivalent about their value.

Fatal Consequences

Gradually, as the months passed, rational argument and evidence provided by the scientific community accumulated and revealed the positive benefits for face mask use in preventing person to person transmission of COVID-19. Both the WHO and our own government ever so slowly changed their stance and now advise on face mask use after long deliberations and procrastinations. It has been a delay that has had fatal consequences for many during the time wasted in reaching a decision.  At last face coverings are now required in several public settings and it has been a relief to see this extended recently to include shop and restaurant workers who up until now, quite irrationally (from a scientific perspective), were not required to adopt their use.

The reasoning behind face mask use is very simple, we have stated it many times through this series of blogs since April but here it is once again. The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is transmitted from person to person through the air in tiny droplets when we breath, speak, cough or sneeze. As we argued vainly months ago, the transmission cycle from person to person would be interrupted through the use of face masks. They would not offer a one hundred percent protection but would potentially reduce the dose of virus transmitted by infected individuals and furthermore reduce the dose received by non-infected individuals.

Leukaemia Busters offers free facemasks. Read our blog "Mask Up" to learn how to claim yours.

This is a two way street. Scientific evidence is building to show that the dose of COVID-19 virus to which an individual is exposed determines the severity of disease that develops, the bigger the dose of virus received the greater the severity of the illness. It doesn’t require much wit or imagination to see how face mask use would be of major benefit in keeping virus transmission under control provided that everybody adheres to their use  where required when used alongside social distancing and other hygiene measures such as handwashing. But we emphasise that it will require everyone to comply and that  a minority of rogue dissenters will need to be dealt with for the benefit of the majority.

A Call to the UK Government

We now call on the government to consider an even wider use of face masks in the community making their use mandatory both outdoors and indoors in public spaces. To reinforce this message the government should:-

  • Provide, free of charge, a high quality reusable/washable face mask to every citizen.
  • Launch an intense national education programme clearly outlining the positive benefits of face mask use in the pandemic and importantly ways in which face masks should be correctly used.
  • Make face mask use mandatory in ALL public spaces including outdoors.

At present only “face coverings” as opposed to “face masks” are required which means that there will be inconsistencies in the quality and therefore the effectiveness of coverings devised by different individuals. The universal provision, by government, of reusable/washable three or four layer face masks of a consistent quality will overcome this particular current shortcoming.  If this is done properly then we and many others believe that virus transmission rates will be significantly reduced allowing the return of some further normality, preventing further lockdowns while we wait for a an effective and safe vaccine to become available in 2021.

Here then is a list with links to all our previous blogs on face mask use dating from the 3rd April to the present day:

To read our other blogs click here.

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