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No mask, no entry policy only worsens shortage on protective gear – expert

/ 10:35 PM March 15, 2020

DAVAO CITY — Amid the global shortage of personnel protective equipment (PPE) and the rising number of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases in the country, a specialist on infectious diseases here called on the public to refrain from using surgical masks when they are not sick so as not to contribute to the shortage.

“This is not the time to be thinking of yourself alone,” said Dr. Kathryn Roa, ID specialist for Davao City hospitals. “To combat the virus, we have to take care of each other.”

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She said healthcare professionals would be at the frontline in the fight against the virus, hence, they would need all the protection that they can have to be able to take care of their patients.

“Just think, if the health professionals get sick, who will take care of the patients?” she asked.

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Roa was reacting to the no-mask, no entry policies being imposed in schools and public offices, which she said would not protect both the public and the healthy people wearing them.

“In Japan, they call it a sick mask because you only wear it when you are sick,” said Roa. “But now, we are telling you, if you are sick stay at home, don’t go out, you don’t need to wear a mask.”

She said masks would be badly needed for healthcare workers who had to take care of patients in the hospital.

But on the streets here, more people are seen wearing masks, as if to ward off the impending threats of the novel coronavirus or SARS-CoV-2, which leads to COVID-19. Surgical masks were among the first to disappear on the shelves of pharmaceutical stores following reports on the threats of COVID-19.

As pharmacies ran out of the surgical masks, jeepney drivers and commuters here started wearing cloth masks, thinking these would protect them from the virus. But Roa said cloth masks were not recommended by any means.

Dr. Jean Lindo, an anesthesiologist said in a separate interview she was surprised to see a taxi driver wearing a mask at the height of the COVID-19 scare. “I asked him, ‘Why are you wearing a mask, are you sick?’ But he said, ‘No, this was only required by the company’.”

Both doctors said healthy people should not wear masks but instead reserve those masks for those who are sick. To illustrate this point, Lindo said three healthy people, each wearing a mask, could still get easily infected once a sick person who is not wearing masks suddenly sneezes, spreading infectious droplets around.

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“The droplets will be on everyone’s hair, clothes, mobile phones, and even masks,” she said. “So, it’s best for a healthy person to give the mask to the sick person to wear because wearing it would be useless.”

Roa said wearing a mask would be effective only if combined with good hygiene.

“Face masks alone would not protect you,” Roa added. “Our best friend is soap and water. Alcohol is only the next best thing.”

But for those using masks, Roa said they needed to make sure their hands are clean before wearing them.

“Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water, before putting on the mask,” Roa said. “As soon as you put it on, the outside part is already considered contaminated, do not touch it. To remove the mask, never touch the front part. Instead, use the loops and wash your hands afterward.”

She said she often sees the mask being worn covering the nose and mouth at the start of the day, go below the nose at noontime and farther down below the chin in the afternoon.

“If you wear a mask, wear it with commitment,” she said.

But she said some schools and public establishments required people to wear masks before they would be given entry to a building.

“You cannot enter (the building, or the school) if you don’t have the mask, that’s so sad because again, you don’t need to use that mask,” she said. “Do you know how many PPEs are left in some hospitals? Some hospitals only have enough for one patient for six days, with no stocks coming in yet because of the global shortage. What will happen if we run out of PPEs at SPMC (Southern Philippines Medical Center), do you think we will admit patients? What will happen to the staff without PPEs?”

She said some schools requiring children to wear masks instead of telling children to frequently wash their hands would be contributing to the shortage of healthcare worker’s protection. “If all of you get sick and your health workers get sick, good luck to you.”

Roa said the size of the masks that children were being made to wear were for adults.

“You’re wasting the masks,” she said.

She also said there are no additional benefits in using double masks. “Three layers of surgical masks are not equal to N95 masks,” she said.

Roa said healthcare workers in the frontline of the public health emergency needed all the protection they could get to be able to serve and take care of patients. “What will happen when they also get sick? Who will protect the sick?”

At the Brokenshire hospital, medical practitioners anticipate the shortage of hazardous material suits, Dr. Lindo said. Although they’ve already placed additional orders, the anesthesiology department has explored the possibility of coming up with an alternative suit in case the existing supply runs out, she added.

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For more news about the novel coronavirus click here.
What you need to know about Coronavirus.
For more information on COVID-19, call the DOH Hotline: (02) 86517800 local 1149/1150.

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