The use of face masks to reduce the spread of COVID-19 has only got weak scientific support. It is only when medical face masks are used correctly when they can be of any value. The advice of WHO is to keep distance even when masks are being worn. The importance of keeping distance seems to have vanished from peoples minds when the decrees to wear face masks were introduced.
The Spanish Government made it compulsory to wear face masks from 21 May 2020 in all public spaces where a distance of two meters cannot be kept to others.
The regional government of Andalucía (Junta de Andalucía) has decided to extend the mandatory use of face masks at all outdoor and indoor public spaces from 15 July 2020.
How clever has it been to force people to wear face masks outdoors even when distance can be kept to others?
Common knowledge from the past is to breath fresh air to deal with respiratory deceases, e.g. the Spanish flue pandemic and TB. Using the police to try to hunt the virus by giving fines to people who do not wear face masks when they walk outdoors with distance to others to breath fresh air, stand out as absurd and counterproductive.
The huge emphasis on face masks and forcing people to wear them at all outdoor and indoor public spaces seem to have contributed to a belief that by wearing face masks they are protected and do not have to keep distance and avoid crowded places any longer.
The lack of distance between people became very obvious in Purto Banús during the holiday season in August 2020. The port was crowded with people wearing face masks, but it was just in a small area where people chose to be packed.
The Spanish government even spent the tax payers money on TV publicity where they emphasised the important to wear face masks even at home when meeting relatives during their Christmas holidays.
Weak scientific support
According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) medical face masks is believed to only have a small or moderate effect to prevent COVID-19. There is no reliable proof of effectiveness for the public to use non-medical face masks, face shields/visors and respirators.
The evidence regarding the effectiveness of medical face masks for the prevention of COVID-19 in the community is compatible with a small to moderate protective effect, but there are still significant uncertainties about the size of this effect. Evidence for the effectiveness of non-medical face masks, face shields/visors and respirators in the community is scarce and of very low certainty.
(ECDC: Use of face masks in the community by non-ill individuals)
The Public Health Agency of Sweden has also written that the scientific support for the use of face masks in the society to curb the spread of COVID-19 is weak, unlike other measures such as keeping a distance. Face masks should not be used to replace more effective measures, such as:
- Keep distance to others and avoid crowded places
- Wash your hands often for at least 20 seconds with warm water and soap. Use hand sanitiser if soap and water are not available
- Cough and sneeze into your elbow to prevent droplets of germs from being spread around you
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth
- Stay at home when you feel unwell!
(Folkhälsomyndigheten: Protect yourself and others from infection)
WHO point out the most important is to keep distance, regardless if people are wearing face masks or not. Furthermore, when face masks are being used they have to be handled correctly to be of any use.
Face masks should be worn so they seal to the face and make the breathing go thorough the mask material instead of passing thorough unfiltered by its sides. Wearing double face masks on top of each other does not make it better, it makes it worse.
Face masks should be put on and taken of without touching the filtering material of the face masks.
Medical face masks should only be worn once and then disposed.
Fabric face masks that can be used several times should be cleaned thoroughly daily to disinfect them. By boiling the face masks they will be disinfected.
How do people handle their face masks?
It is probably very few that handle their face masks correctly. Many are touching their face masks frequently and put them on and off without washing and disinfect their hands before. Medical face masks are worn over and over again. When it comes to fabric face masks, then it is probably very few that disinfect their face masks daily by e.g. boiling them. Furthermore, fabric face masks are usually not been kept in a clean bag when not being used.
Many people can be seen not wearing their face masks properly. Lots of people wear their face masks without covering both their mouth and their nose. Instead they just lift up their mask to when they meet someone else or when they see the police.
When people are touching their face masks constantly and mainly wear them to avoid being fined, then it has become counterproductive. The decree to wear face masks at all outdoor and indoor public spaces then rather contribute to spread the virus more instead of doing the opposite.
When the politicians are forcing people to wear face masks, then one could expect that they would wear and handle their face masks in the very best way. It is not what we say, it is what we do that have a huge impact on others.
It is especially when we talk, cough and sneeze when it is more likely that we will emit droplets of germs and spread them around us.
If the politicians really would like to communicate the importance of wearing face masks correctly, then they would keep them on when they talk. It is perfectly fine to wear a mask when talking with a microphone.
Why on earth keeping the face masks on when one is quite and then take them off when talking with microphones?
One could expect that the regional government of Andalucía would be very careful how they wear their face masks, since they have forced people to wear face masks at all outdoor and indoor public spaces. This does not seem to be the case, since they give speeches with out face masks and keep them on when they stand quietly in the background like ornaments.
Crisis awareness does only work during shorter periods. Genetically humans are still hunters that only are equipped to get up in “crisis mode” during short time. Trying to keep up crisis awareness over longer time will exhaust people and it is likely to lead to reactions in the opposite direction where people behave in an even more unwanted way, which also can create clashes and riots.
How clever is it to force people to wear face masks, preventing them to breath fresh air, when they are walking where there are not that many people nearby?