For ‘praning’ or protection? Not everyone should wear medical face masks

February 6, 2020 - 9:54 AM
High demand for surgical masks in Manila
A sign is posted on a medical supply store that says surgical and N95 masks are already out of stock, in Manila, Philippines, Jan. 31, 2020. (Reuters/Eloisa Lopez)

Health organizations advised the public that wearing face masks is not needed if they are not exhibiting symptoms of the novel coronavirus following the limited supply of the respiratory device in the market.

Since the state health agency confirmed the first case in the country last week, the fear of getting infected with the new strain sparked a buying frenzy of surgical face masks in different parts of the country.

The Department of Health, however, reminded the public via an infographic that only those who have respiratory symptoms and medical workers of suspected patients have to wear face masks.

The DOH also stressed that wearing face masks alone will not prevent them from getting ill.

“Hindi sapat ang paggamit ng face mask lamang. Kinakailangan gawin din ang iba pang paraan upang makaiwas sa mga sakit,” read part of the infographic which was shared on February 3.

“Importante ang hand washing!” the post added.

DAPAT BA AKONG MAGSUOT NG FACE MASK?Alamin kung sino-sino ang kailangang magsuot ng face mask sa infographic na…

Posted by Department of Health (Philippines) on Monday, February 3, 2020


Dr. Albert Domingo, a consultant of the WHO, said on Twitter that individuals should only wear face masks if they are sick or are experiencing any respiratory symptoms.

“Wear a face mask ONLY if you have fever, cough, colds, difficulty breathing or other respiratory symptoms. If you are not sick, then a mask is NOT required,” Domingo said in a thread.

Prior to this, WHO country representative Rabindra Abeyasinghe also made the same reminder when he noticed reporters wearing protective gear during a press conference.

“Normal people going about their normal work don’t need to wear surgical or N95 masks,” he said.

Not required; No evidence it can protect healthy people

“A medical mask is not required, as no evidence is available on its usefulness to protect non-sick persons. However, masks might be worn in some countries according to local cultural habits,” the health organization stated in an advisory.

Based on the observations on confirmed patients, the mild symptoms of the new respiratory disease include a runny nose, sore throat, cough and fever. Severe symptoms include pneumonia or breathing difficulties.

People who have these signs should:

  • Wear a medical mask and seek medical care if experiencing fever, cough and difficulty breathing, as soon as possible or in accordance with to local protocols.
  • Follow WHO’s guidelines on wearing masks.

Instead of wearing masks, people who do not have these signs should:

  • Perform hand hygiene frequently, use alcohol-based hand rub if hands are not visibly soiled or soap and water when hands are visibly soiled
  • If coughing or sneezing, cover nose and mouth with flexed elbow or paper tissue, dispose of tissue immediately after use and perform hand hygiene
  • Refrain from touching mouth and nose
  • Maintain distance of at least one meter from any individual with 2019-nCoV respiratory symptoms (e.g., coughing, sneezing)
  • Avoid agglomerations and frequency of closed crowded spaces;

The WHO also added that older people and people with preexisting medical conditions appeared to be more at risk of developing severe symptoms of the virus.

Those who are living and traveling in an area with confirmed cases are also at risk of the infection.

However, getting the virus from a person who shows no symptoms is possible, but rare.

Face mask seasons: Other people need it more than you do

In mid-January, the demand for face masks in the country also heightened after Taal Volcano erupted and sprayed thick ash reaching the towns of Calabarzon and Metro Manila.

Face masks, particularly the N95 variety, were also hoarded in medical stores and caused a shortage of supply.

The health agency appealed to Filipinos to leave some to health workers who are handling cases.

“The N95 mask, we want to reserve this for the health workers who are actually handling cases either PUIs [persons under investigation] or confirmed positive cases. We ask everybody huwag nang makiagaw sa supplies d’yan dahil ang nangangailangan talaga ‘yong mga nangangalaga,” Health Spokesperson Eric Domingo said.

As of February 4, there are already 90 persons under investigation, according to DOH’s tracker.