#NASSAU, The Bahamas — People all over the world are choosing to buy masks to protect themselves from COVID-19 to the point where many stores have empty shelves.
However, Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Delon Brennen explained during a recent interview that there are reasons why healthcare providers recommend that only sick people and healthcare workers should utilize masks.
“The reason masks are most useful for sick people is because for example if 10 of us enter a room, and there is one sick person in the room, you can use the one mask to put on the person who is sick; they would then cough into the mask and their respiratory droplets would not get onto anyone or surfaces or anything like that.
“Even if that one person who is sick does not have a mask on and you put nine masks on the other people in the room, yes that person when they cough, the masks will theoretically protect you from breathing in those particles immediately — but what it does not do is protect that environment.”
He explained, “So it does not go in your nose or mouth, but it goes on your hands, it goes on your phone, it goes on the handles to the door or whatever entry there is; it goes on other surfaces like tables and chairs. So when you go and you touch that surface, or you touch your phone, touch the handles, you then pick up the germs onto your hands and unfortunately if you touch your eyes, your nose, your mouth, you would then have the virus on your mucus membranes and have the potential of introducing it to yourself.”
Dr. Delon stated that the most important thing to do is to put a mask on a person who is coughing or sneezing and who has the respiratory symptoms to go along with it; and this is whether it is in regard to COVID-19, influenza, or the common cold: then the whole environment has been protected.
He also noted that healthcare workers need masks because they are going to take care of not just one person but multiple people with respiratory issues.
The Deputy CMO said for them wearing a mask means that they are protected from multiple people, and in general healthcare workers do a little bit better job of washing their hands and having good hand hygiene.
“So while someone may cough in the environment and they (healthcare providers) too might get it on their hands and surfaces, each time they go to see a patient or when they go and are done with seeing a patient, they do a lot better with cleansing their hands and so they are less likely to pass it on themselves.”
He also explained that there is a whole procedure behind putting on and taking off a mask.
Before putting on a mask a person should always wash their hands and then take the mask off from the back. “You never want to touch the front of the mask because, theoretically, as you are breathing, those particles that you were trying not to get into your nose have now been attached to the mask. If you touch the front of the mask, [the particles are] now on your hands. So you take it off from the back, you then make sure it drops directly into the bin — you wash before you take it off from the back, drop it directly in the bin, and then you wash your hands again.”
The Deputy CMO stressed that when healthcare providers suggest that people wear masks in public, it is for the patient specifically so that one of two things does not happen: the patient who has a respiratory illness does not pass it onto someone else; and the patient who has an immunocompromised condition and who is susceptible to infections does not get infected by something. “But again, it is a very rare scenario, there is a whole protocol around that as well, and you are not expected to wear it for long periods of time.
“You are only supposed to wear it for at the most two hours, and then you are supposed to get a new mask because as you might imagine the mask then becomes wet and all sorts of organisms and fomites that are out there can now be attracted to the mask.”
Dr. Brennen added, “So if you wear it for much longer, you have now defeated the whole purpose because you have attracted more to the mask than otherwise. Then it loses its ability to protect you the longer that goes on.”
BIS NEWS by Llonella Gilbert