The Medical Officer of Health, Dr Ivan Muscat, has issued updated advice on covering the nose and mouth with cloth face masks when out in public, in response to growing expert support of this protective measure.
Dr Muscat explains that although there is limited direct data on the use of cloth masks for COVID-19, there is good supportive evidence from other infections and good theoretical reasons to believe they will be helpful. Dr Muscat says it is therefore reasonable to conclude that such masks are an additional way to help reduce the transmission of the virus.
Furthermore, in the last two days, both the American Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have both updated their position to support the use of cloth masks in public as an additional step to reduce the spread of infection. Several countries in Europe, such as the Czech Republic, Austria and some parts of Germany, have already recommended this.
Dr Muscat said: "Using cloth masks to cover your nose and mouth will reduce the transmission of large respiratory droplets from the person wearing the mask to others. To a lesser extent, the masks may also protect the wearer from others.
"It is now strongly recommended that non-medical face coverings are worn in public places while Islanders are observing Stay at Home guidance, particularly when shopping for essentials, and by essential workers where appropriate.
"Cloth masks may also act as a reminder that we live in different times and should be staying at home as much as possible. Such masks are not a substitute for strict social distancing, stay at home guidance or good hand and respiratory hygiene.
"Using a cloth mask is an additional measure and is not suitable in a clinical setting, where medical grade personal protective equipment is required."
If Islanders have symptoms of the virus, they should be in household isolation. Having a mask does not mean that they can leave home safely without transmitting the virus to others.
Cloth face masks should:
- be used in public places
- be changed if soiled, wet or uncomfortable. Place used cloth masks in a plastic bag and take home for washing (ideally in a machine and tumble-dried, otherwise with detergent and hot water). Essential workers may need several masks a day to ensure good hygiene and comfort.
People wearing a mask should:
- wash hands after removing it
- remember that repeated washing may eventually degrade the material, reducing its effectiveness in stopping large respiratory particles. Sensible replacement of used masks is appropriate.
Shops that sell fabric and sewing supplies may now open so that anyone wanting to make face masks at home can buy the equipment needed. Such masks are also available through commercial suppliers/makers and online.
Employers and those who are self-employed will need to consider, over the coming days, how best to reflect this updated advice in each workplace. The community can benefit from the use of cloth face masks and appropriate steps will need to be taken in each work setting, including for essential work, based on individual risk assessments and guidance for adopting medical grade PPE in specific circumstances.