Covid-19 : The Changing Story Around Face Masks

Several weeks ago, health professionals, the civil society and even the World Health Organisation (WHO) told the public that people do not need to use protective face masks unless they are sick or caring for someone who is sick. Experts also agreed that medical-grade protective gear, such as N95 respirators (face masks), should be reserved for health workers. However, the story is changing especially as scientists now know that people who are infected with the new Coronavirus can spread it even when they do not have symptoms. (This was not known in the early days of the current pandemic.) Up to 25 per cent of infected people may not show symptoms, said the Director of Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Dr. Robert Redfield in an interview. CDC experts have also learned that people who are symptomatic shed the virus up to two days before showing symptoms. “This helps explain how rapidly this virus continues to spread,” Redfield noted. This silent spread has bolstered the case for people in the general population to always wear masks when in public, since anyone could be sick.

Some countries, such as Austria, have made mask-wearing in supermarkets compulsory. Local leaders in the United States are encouraging and in some cases mandating-that people cover their faces in public. In Cameroon, the Minister of Public Health, Malachie Manaouda has urged Cameroonians, without any exceptions, to systematically wear a face mask when going out of their homes. This has brought to bear the use of all types of face masks in the society. Moving around the streets of Yaounde, one will notice that the majority of inhabitants are wearing face masks made from all sorts of fabric such as cotton materials, loin cloths and bandanas or cut T-shirts. Although, there is the cry for the general population to wear non-medical masks, there are still a majority of people seen moving around with medical masks.

However, the manner in which these masks are used calls for concern. There are those who can wear one mask for as much as they can. A man of about 30 years old was seen recently in Yaounde with a visibly dirty medical mask. The borders of the white mask was brownish in colour and the manner in which he kept removing and putting the mask on his face left everyone asking if he was not going to infect himself with the mask. Some people do not even know that the moment a mask is wet or stained, it should be changed immediately. However, not all masks are the same and their suitability depends on each individual’s situation. In addition, the material used in making some home-made masks is so light that one wonders its effectiveness. It is important to emphasis that wearing a face mask is certainly not an iron-clad guarantee that the person cannot be infected by Covid-19. However, they can effectively capture droplets, which is a main transmission route of the Coronavirus.

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