You'll catch the virus from the mask, mate, said the young man walking past me while I was standing near the Telstra store in Bega on Saturday.
I was wearing a mask as it is usually impossible to social distance in the shopping malls. I thanked him because he was obviously concerned for my health, even though the information he was basing it on was wrong.
I am not surprised.
We have been bombarded with misleading and contradictory statements regarding this virus from the start by people we should be able to trust. The only thing that has not changed is the hand wash policy and that seems to be acceptable to most people.
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Initially we were told "the virus will not float in the air. It will fall straight to the ground if someone coughs or sneezes". We now know that this is not necessarily true.
A forceful sneeze or cough can project the virus particles several meters and they have been shown to float suspended in air for several hours, especially in rooms without free air circulation.
We now know that the viral load (that is, the amount of virus particles sprayed into the air when someone coughs or sneezes and the amount that someone may breathe in or acquire from surfaces contaminated by droplets) is an important factor in spreading the infection and in determining the seriousness of the infection.
A low virus load from coughing is possible if the patient is wearing a mask thus reducing the infectiousness. This is the same as coughing into the elbow of the jacket as we were initially instructed to do.
We are simply making sure that if we cough we are not showering these virus particles for other people to breathe in.
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By the same token, one would assume a healthy person would breathe in fewer virus particles if they were wearing a mask.
This has been a topic of controversy. Massachusetts General Hospital sent out a circular to all employees in March 2020 making it mandatory to wear masks when coming to hospital and five months later we are in the same situation, reinventing the wheel.
They started the one mask per shift policy for staff who are not working in the front line to limit wastage. There was some concern that in a country where people were hoarding up on toilet paper for no obvious reason, a run on masks, if unnecessary, would be disastrous if it led to shortage of masks for frontline staff.
We know that people without symptoms can spread the disease and in fact the maximum virus shedding and concentration in the throat appears to be 2-3 days before symptoms appear.
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So it makes sense to wear a mask when social distancing is not possible, for example in closed areas like shops, just in case the person next to you is in a highly infectious stage but without symptoms.
This virus is not going anywhere in a hurry and we may yet see its full fury if we are not careful.
There are many people in the community who believe in the nebulous herd immunity and believe that such immunity is the only way forward.
To have herd immunity, around 70 per cent of people must contract the disease and survive and that does not seem to be an attractive option. We are now seeing across the world seriously damaged heart and lungs resulting in on going problems for those who survived. Prevention certainly seems to be the better option.
Some believe that enforcing these simple common-sense rules is tantamount to a police state and we can see examples of such comments on the Bega District News Facebook page as well, which is very worrying.
Of course these people have every right to be guinea pigs and get infected, but then they put our innocent nursing staff and doctors at risk by coming in for treatment. It is not fair to put them at risk because you can't be bothered to be careful.
This excerpt from John Hopkins University may be useful here: "Based on early estimates of this virus's infectiousness, we will likely need at least 70 per cent of the population to be immune to have herd protection. In the worst case (for example, if we do not perform physical distancing or enact other measures to slow the spread of SARS-CoV-2), the virus can infect this many people in a matter of a few months. This would overwhelm our hospitals and lead to high death rates."
Seventy per cent of the Bega population is 3500 people. We will be simply smothered if that many people got infected.
This virus is not going anywhere in a hurry and we may yet see its full fury if we are not careful. The three W's - Wash hands after any contact, Watch your distance (from another person) and Wear a mask in crowded places - have been coined as a reminder.
We will do well to remember these and not become complacent.