BACOLOD CITY, Negros Occidental, Philippines – It is absolutely without question that wearing a mask prevents the spread of the coronavirus contagion, regardless of the place.
Laws are now implemented about wearing masks in public places, but a curious question arises: Is it safe to pass wearing masks at home?
A study published in BMJ journals entitled “Reduction of secondary transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in households by face mask use, disinfection and social distancing: a cohort study in Beijing, China” tackled this question.
The researchers interviewed 335 people from 124 families in Beijing between late February and late March about their households during the pandemic. The average family had four people, with most having three generations and each family had one confirmed case of coronavirus.
The study says that most person-to-person transmission occurred within households, and that wearing a face mask in the same house was 79% effective at curbing transmission, especially before symptoms emerge.
After the symptoms, the protective effects of mask wearing was significantly reduced – but these does not mean people should stop wearing a mask, this means people should enforce it more.
The study also confirms the highest risk of household transmission is prior to symptom onset (This may be when people are unaware if they are infected as is in the cases of the highly debated asymptomatic/presymptomatic transmissions) but precautionary measures such as mask use, disinfection and social distancing in households can prevent COVID-19 transmission.
Another interesting note in the study is when the first person to become infected in the household had diarrhea.
In this case, the risk of transmission is quadrupled. But the least likely noticed mode of transmission, are the things people normally do inside the household which are close daily contact with the first person infected, such as eating meals or watching television together. In cases like these, the risk of transmission increases to 18-fold.
FOR HEALTHCARE WORKERS: Will the Benefits outweigh the cost?
In an article by the American Medical Association, Mark Rupp, MD, professor and chief of the infectious diseases division at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) in Omaha was interviewed about face masks at home.
He said that mask use is mandatory in public but not in his recommendations at home as it would be “intrusive, cumbersome and impractical in the home setting”. (READ also: How to wear surgical mask: Blue or white side out?)
In an interview by Medscape, Jeanne Noble, MD, said that targeted use of masks at home, such as around older visiting relatives or other more vulnerable family members, may be more realistic than continuous in-home use.
When a household member becomes ill, recommendations for preventing disease spread include having a sick family member sleep in a separate bedroom, using a separate bathroom, avoiding eating together and especially avoid sharing of meals. Of course, wearing a mask when within 6 feet of other household members is recommended.
Dr. Noble added that a household member who is also medical provider may be wearing a mask for a 10-hour shift and already has significant physical discomfort, causing sores across the nose and behind the ears.
So when they have to follow these self-isolation precautions while at home for months on end it may have a significant emotional toll on them.
Face masks are an important factor in prevention, but in some settings like the household, or in some professionals like in healthcare – prolonged face mask use may be a true physical and emotional strain.
Fortunately face masks aren’t the only measure to prevent virus spread, hand washing and physical distancing are effective (and mandatory) – this statement however does not advocate non-mask wearing as realistically, prudent and religious mask wearing even in the household setting, significantly decreases transmission based on evidence.
Cultural differences may affect the attitude towards mask wearing.
A face mask is seen as a symbol of solidarity in East Asian countries. Elsewhere, especially in Western countries – it carries a social stigma, and is seen as a sign of sickness or weakness. Whatever the causes of doubts in mask wearing, eventually evidence will push society to conform to it in one way or another. While a sense of normalcy is desired by many, in the meantime there is no telling whether the world can go back to the old normal, or if the “new normal” would become perpetual in a world of emerging infectious diseases.