Face masks or face coverings are one of the standard precautions that individuals must take to protect themselves from COVID-19, especially in closed spaces where social distancing is not possible. A recent report published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) found that the policy of universal face-covering in a Missouri salon stopped the apparent transmission of infection.
What did the report find?
In a salon in Springfield, Missouri, among 139 clients who were exposed to two symptomatic hair stylists with confirmed COVID-19, the usage of face masks by both the clients and the stylists prevented the apparent spread of the infection. Among 67 clients tested for the disease, all tests were negative, indicating no symptomatic secondary cases. “Adherence to the community’s and company’s face-covering policy likely mitigated spread of SARS-CoV-2,” the report says.
Among the 104 clients who were interviewed, 98.1 percent (102) reported wearing masks or face coverings for the entire duration of their appointment and 1.9 percent reported wearing face coverings for a part of the time.
Among the 139 clients, the mean age was 52 years and the salon appointments ranged from 15-45 minutes. Types of face coverings varied, 47.1 percent used cloth face coverings, 46.1 percent used surgical masks, 4.8 percent wore N95 respirators and 1.9 percent did not know the kind of face-covering they used.
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The scenario in the salon
On May 12, 2020 (day 0), one of the hairstylists (A) at a salon in Springfield, Missouri developed respiratory symptoms and continued working until day 8, when the stylist received a positive result for COVID-19. A second stylist (B) who had been exposed to stylist A developed respiratory symptoms on May 15 and he too, worked with clients until day 8, before seeking a test for COVID-19. The stylist’s test came out positive on day 10.
From the time stylists A and B developed symptoms, they serviced close to 139 clients and after contact tracing and follow-ups, no COVID-19 symptoms were identified among any of them. After stylist B had a positive result, the salon was shut down for three days to disinfect the frequently touched and contaminated areas.
So did face masks prevent the spread of infection?
The report speculates that the citywide ordinance to reduce maximum building waiting area seating to 25 percent and the company-wide policy requiring face coverings by employees and clients might have helped in preventing the spread of COVID-19 during the exposures between the stylists and their clients.
“Both company and city policies were likely important factors in preventing the spread of SARS-CoV-2 during these interactions between clients and stylists. These results support the use of face coverings in places open to the public, especially when social distancing is not possible, to reduce spread of SARS-CoV-2,” the report says.
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What we know about face masks
Earlier in June, the World Health Organisation (WHO) changed its guidelines on face masks, advising that face masks should be worn in public to stop the spread of COVID-19. In its new guidelines, the WHO has said, “Masks can be used either for protection of healthy persons (worn to protect oneself when in contact with an infected individual) or for source control (worn by an infected individual to prevent onward transmission).”
During the initial days and weeks of the pandemic, the utility of face masks in protecting against infection was debatable, but as evidence emerged from across the world, the dominant scientific opinion now says that masks are useful and that even relatively simple home-made masks can offer a great degree of protection.
In one study, researchers from universities in Arizona, Harvard and Sydney have, using mathematical models for a population in New York, shown that if 70% of people wore an effective professional mask every time they ventured outdoors, the pandemic could be eliminated from the city.
Last month, The Indian Express reported an expert’s suggestion that during the monsoons, it is best to use a three-ply surgical mask since these types of masks have an exterior that does not get wet in the rain.
Recently, the Union Health Ministry has warned against using N95 masks that have valved respirators that make it easier for virus particles to escape out of the mask since it does not filter the aerosols coming out. The Health Ministry has therefore encouraged the public to use home-made face masks or coverings made of cloth, preferably cotton, which can be tied or fastened over the nose and mouth.
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