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COVID-19: Are Cloth Masks And Surgical Masks Ineffective In Preventing Virus Spread?

The coronavirus cases around the globe are at 2,484,301, with 170,501 deaths reported and 652,761 recoveries. The virus outbreak that began in 2019 continues to cause casualties, while health experts around the globe are extensively working on developing a vaccine and simpler test kits [1].

From technological interventions to extensive research on existing vaccines and therapies, the search for a medicine to treat the covid-19 is ongoing. To control and manage the situation, health authorities around the globe have advised everyone to stay in self-quarantine and to wear a face mask while venturing out homes to minimise the risk of spreading the disease [2].

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With the WHO and the CDC and several other health organisations encouraging the use of masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, recent revelations regarding the effectiveness of masks have proven otherwise.


Debate On The Effectiveness Of Masks Against COVID-19

Since the beginning of the pandemic, health experts and officials have been debating the effectiveness of cloth masks and surgical masks against the spread of the coronavirus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had issued guidelines on the use of face masks by the public, which encourage people to wear homemade cloth masks [3].

The WHO has also updated their guidelines for the use of protective face masks, where it was pointed out that the ‘use of masks by healthy people in the community setting is not supported by current evidence and carries uncertainties and critical risks' [4].


How Was The Study Conducted?

A study published in the Nature journal asserted that surgical masks are moderately effective in preventing a person with a viral respiratory infection from spreading infectious particles. While the study examined coronaviruses as a whole, it was not exclusive to SARS-CoV-2 [5].

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The recent study, which argued the ineffectiveness of cloth and surgical masks was conducted by investigators from the University of Ulsan College of Medicine, Chung-Ang University Hospital, and Sejong University in South Korea who studied four participants receiving medical care for COVID-19 [6].

The coronavirus patients were directed to cough over petri dishes without a mask while wearing a disposable surgical mask, and while wearing a reusable mask made of cotton cloth to understand whether masks could stop the viral particles from spreading.

The outer and inner surfaces of each mask were swabbed and examined to find whether any viral particles had been able to pass through the masks to their outer surfaces. The results showed that particles of SARS-CoV-2 were found on the outsides of both types of mask, reaching the conclusion that neither cloth nor surgical mask can contain the virus.

The researchers pointed out that, "Neither surgical nor cotton masks effectively filtered SARS-CoV-2 during coughs by infected patients." The paper further stated, "Prior evidence that surgical masks effectively filtered influenza virus informed recommendations that patients with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 should wear face masks to prevent transmission" [7].


What Does The New Evidence Suggest?

According to the reports developed from extensive studies, comparing and analysing previous studies on masks and the coronavirus infection and studying the nature of containing the virus, it has been pointed out that cloth masks and surgical masks are not effective in preventing the spread of the virus [8].

It was also stated that there is no clear understanding of how large the particles are, surgical masks have been proven ineffective in filtering the virus. Also, the researchers found a higher level of contamination on the outer than the inner mask surfaces.

"Of note, we found greater contamination on the outer than the inner mask surfaces. Although it is possible that virus particles may cross from the inner to the outer surface because of the physical pressure of swabbing, we swabbed the outer surface before the inner surface. The consistent finding of virus on the outer mask surface is unlikely to have been caused by experimental error or artefact" [9].


On A Final Note…

In conclusion, it can be understood that surgical masks and reusable cloth masks are both ineffective in preventing the spread of the coronavirus disease, with only N95 respirators being the safe option for frontline workers and first responders.

Read more about: covid 19 coronavirus masks
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