Masks do help during pandemic

Dr Gerry Norris, microbiologist, Noordhoek

There is much debate at the moment about whether surgical masks can protect us from Covid-19.

I believe masks do help during a global pandemic.

The core of the issue is the fact that Covid-19 is microscopically tiny – far smaller than the size of the pores in many a mask. Thus they can penetrate the perceived protection afforded by masks. Well, some at least. That is the main argument used by those who do not support the use of masks. However, an important counter argument is that the virus particles themselves may not be “free-floating” – they are most often contained in droplets which are dispensed in countless thousands during a coughing or sneezing episode. The masks can protect against those droplets

Masks will assist in minimising the spread of the virus if they are worn by infected persons. And the masks will indeed help protect virus-free people from being infected.

The real debate is around the droplets themselves, not so much about the virus particles as such.

The general and most popular masks available are the disposable and so-called “surgical masks”, which can be bought over the counter at many pharmacies, but because of a desperate worldwide shortage some countries are rationing them, including Taiwan, which has one of the best health-care systems in the world, and, following its experience with the global SARS epidemic of the early 2000s, has so far mostly avoided Covid-19.

As a microbiologist, I have thought carefully about what my own family should do. We are using masks when going out in public. The main reason is to protect ourselves from the droplets of others who might be carrying the virus itself. We believe that we are virus free.

I believe our government has taken some very positive, albeit perhaps unpopular decisions and initiatives. The lockdown comes at a huge price. But the positive effect and benefit may be felt by generations to come as the country moves forward.

So my mantra is: stay at home when and where possible; wear a mask when interacting with others; use sanitiser; wash hands properly and frequently with soaps and water; eat healthily; drink sufficient water; take advantage of immune boosters, vitamins and mineral supplements; and speak to your doctor or pharmacist if you feel vulnerable or unsure. They will have good advice for you.

We do not know how the pandemic will pan out with the approaching winter. Let’s all be kind to one another during this unique time as a new chapter of human history is being written.