COVID-19 has been overwhelming. Both in terms of the horrendous scale of deaths and the way that the vast majority of the public have pulled together to support and protect each other. We’ve seen people shopping for the vulnerable, companies doing all they can to help the NHS and people of all ages striving to support each other whilst upholding the lockdown. We’ve all been eager to show our gratitude to the incredible work of not only the NHS frontline staff but also supermarket workers, delivery drivers and everyone else who has literally kept the country running.
Many of us pushed for the lockdown before it was presented by the government and, if lessons are to be learnt from other countries, it seems we need to push again. This time it’s something that we can all do to help each other; if I wear a simple mask or face covering it protects you from droplets I produce whilst simply breathing and talking as well as when coughing and sneezing. You can protect me by wearing one too. Many countries who are succeeding in flattening the curve and continuing to keep the virus at bay have made wearing a simple face covering in public recommended or even law.
Professor Trisha Greenhalgh (University of Oxford) and Jeremy Howard (University of San Francisco) have completed analysis of extensive research on the effectiveness of mask wearing. They state, “Importantly, in every country and every time period where mask usage has been encouraged through laws, or where masks were provided to citizens, case and death rates have fallen.” They conclude, “If it turns out that you’re incubating COVID-19, the people you care about will be glad you wore a mask.”
So, if simple face coverings could make a difference to the spread of COVID-19, why aren’t they being recommended or enforced here already? I’m neither a doctor nor a scientist but I’ve been following this closely and it seems that there are a couple of perceived obstacles. One counter argument is that people may feel too confident in a mask and stop following other advice. Obviously, simple face coverings are not a golden bullet and they wouldn’t take the place of staying home as much as possible, social distancing, meticulous hand washing etc. Let’s be honest though, we didn’t stop washing our hands when the lockdown began! We know that we’re adding extra protection each time new steps are recommended rather than replacing the ones we’ve already embraced. We’d also all need to handle them carefully and wash them thoroughly.
Another problem is that we don’t have enough personal protective equipment (PPE) including high protection masks for front line NHS and care workers. Several experts believe this is why face masks have not been recommended in the UK already. Of course, professional grade PPE must absolutely be kept for those who face high levels of exposure to the virus whilst working to treat Covid19 patients. Simple face coverings, which are cheap and can be made at home, are what is being suggested. Just as we’ve all been staying home to protect the NHS, surely anything additional that we can do to reduce transmission should also be done to protect the NHS as well as our families and communities?
There are many patterns and videos online demonstrating everything from cloth masks to non-sew masks made from old tee shirts and even vacuum cleaner bags. Support and advice on why and how we should do this ranges from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to the actor Matthew McConaughey’s bandana and coffee filter mask.
Countries like the Czech Republic started their ‘my mask protects you and yours protects me’ campaign at a grass roots level before their government caught up and enforced it. Their figures are testament to what can be achieved. Surely, this simple step is essential not only now but also when we reach a point for lockdown to be gradually lifted. We know the virus won’t have evaporated and vaccine development cannot be instantaneous.
Stroud’s been the birthplace of so many movements for good and this seems right up our street. After all, what have we got to lose?