Masks can prevent virus transmission

Boxes of the 3-ply face mask available in the market. Photo: Ramidi Subari

KUCHING: There are evidences which show that the rate of transmission of Covid-19 is lower in population with widespread use of non-medical masks.

Associate Professor Dr Helmy Hazmi, a public health physician currently working in the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas), stated that the non-medical face masks should have at least three layers for protection purposes.

He pointed out that each layer had its own function; the outer layer repelled water, the middle layer acted as a filter while the inner layer absorbed moisture.

“There are basically two types of masks, namely the medical masks and non-medical masks. The non-medical masks include fabric masks that can be homemade or purchased.

“The general public, especially those below the age of 60 and with no co-existing illnesses, can wear the non-medical masks. The non-medical masks function as sources of control, protecting those around the wearers from the wearers’ potentially infectious respiratory droplets and vice versa,” he explained.

The 3-ply face masks for adult and children. Photo: Ramidi Subari

Dr Helmy added that medical masks also served similar functions as the non-medical masks.

“There is no problem for the public to wear medical masks and they are recommended for those more than 60 years old, those who have underlying medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, cancers and weakened immune system.

“It is also recommended for those who are caring for the sick, especially those who may have Covid-19 and are unwell. In addition to its function as a source control, the medical mask also serves as a barrier which protects its wearer from the respiratory droplets of others,” he said.

Dr Helmy pointed out that generally the more layers a face mask had, the more efficient the filtration would be.

“However, excessively layered masks may be uncomfortable and reduce breathability in users. This can result in improper wearing of the masks, thus defeating the purpose of wearing them in communities with active Covid-19 transmission.

“There are not enough evidences to decide if four-layered masks are better than two-layer or three-layer masks but there are evidences that show the rate of Covid-19 transmission is lower in population with widespread use of face masks regardless of the number of layers the masks have.

The fashionable fabric face masks. Photo: Ramidi Subari

“Up to date, the fabric or non-medical masks have less than three layers and no special filters in it. However, they do provide adequate individual protection to the wearers. If worn properly, the risk of infection to the wearers can be reduced by as much as 65 percent,” he said.

“People should be aware that fabric masks tend to vary in quality,” he added.

Asked about the RM10,000 fine imposed on offenders who did not wear  face masks or breached the standard operating procedures (SOPs), Dr Helmy said  he agreed  that law enforcement was necessary to ensure compliance.

He said there were still errant people around despite   more than a year of educating and promoting health messages to the public.

“I agree that at some point in time, law enforcement is necessary to to ensure that people comply with the SOPs. Compounds as high as RM10,000 may be sending a clear signal to the people who are lackadaisical as they will feel the pain at where it hurts the most —their pocket.

Dr Helmy added that prevention worked best when the mask wearing was combined with other measures such as physical distancing, avoiding crowded places and frequent washing of the hands.

He also stressed the roles that the public equally shouldered in flattening the Covid-19 curve.

“There is also a need to spread the knowledge and teach your family members as well as friends who may lack access to information, especially in the rural areas.

“We have covered a lot on the sciences of the Covid-19 virus. The problem now is not about the lack of science in Covid-19 virus but rather the science of human behaviour,” he said.

The the N95 face masks. Photo: Ramidi Subari