For the consulting physician of the Philippine Information Agency, fully vaccinated individuals should continue to wear masks and practice other COVID-19 pandemic safety measures, as the highly contagious COVID-19 Delta variant spreads rapidly across the country.
"With COVID cases surging, putting us on enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) once again, variants coming from all sides, we have to start thinking that this is going to continue and this is the real normal," Dr. Dean Zenarosa said.
"Yes we have the vaccine and we are getting more and more people vaccinated, but reality is, we still have to be vigilant, careful and continue what DOH (Department of Health) and IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases) instructed us about maintaining Minimum Public Health Standards," he added.
Doc Dean said people cannot feel safe just because they had the two doses. They still need to protect themselves because vaccine alone won’t stop community transmission.
The physician said regardless of the variants. "These are our best protection."
"Masks help prevent the spread of infection, from the original COVID-19 virus and the Delta variant that is getting all the attention now and other variants like the Lambda variant, and those that will inevitably arise," Zenarosa said.
Play it safe
The DOH and IATF’s guidelines strictly recommend that people in areas with high transmission wear masks and face shield indoors while in public.
"That’s because face masks reduce the transmission of the Delta, Lambda, and other COVID-19 variants, as well as they do for the original COVID-19 virus. Mask wearing by vaccinated people reduces the risk of breakthrough infections," Doc Dean explained.
"Wearing the proper mask that works for your purpose will do a lot."
N95 masks offer the best protection against the COVID-19 virus and its Delta variant. N95 masks filter 95% of particles in the air as small as 0.3 microns. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) said healthcare workers and other workers who work in hazardous conditions should have prioritized access to N95 masks. Only buy and use N95 masks if you are one or if there’s an abundant supply in your area.
The next best option against COVID-19 is a KN95 mask, also filtering up to 95% of particles in the air as small as 0.3 microns in size. The difference between N95 and KN95 masks is how they are certified. Note that N95 masks follow a US standard, whereas KN95 masks follow a Chinese one. The standards are very similar, but the obvious differences is appearance and comfort in that N95 masks usually have headband straps, while KN95 masks have ear loops.
"Of course, when purchasing KN95 masks, make sure they meet requirements similar to those set by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
According to the CDC, these masks are suitable for situations that require non health care related persons who will have prolonged close contact with people who do not live in the same household, or for people who are at increased risk for severe illness.
"As mentioned, the downside to KN95 masks are that they can be uncomfortable and require more effort to breathe, especially if your not used to wearing full fitted masks," Doc Dean said.
These masks are commercially available, more comfortable, and affordable. However, surgical masks are harder to fit properly. The poor fit causes gaps around the nose and along the sides of the face where respiratory droplets containing the virus may leak in and out.
Masks with tie cords and nose wires can help improve fit. The ear loops of surgical masks can also be knotted to fit more snugly.
"Since the delta variant is more contagious than other variants, it’s even more important to make sure masks are properly fitted," he advised.
Mask with valve
Zenarosa said these masks are not recommended by the CDC or the World Health Organization because the valves and vents allow respiratory droplets containing the virus to escape.
"So if you are infected, or worse.. infected but don’t know it, you could infect the people around you with the coronavirus through the 'leak' in the vent," he warned.
The effectiveness of cloth masks depends on how porous the fabric is. Look for cloth masks made of multiple layers of tightly woven, breathable fabric. One way to test a cloth mask is by holding it up to a light source and seeing if the mask blocks the light.
Cloth masks can be made at home and customized for the best fit. They are also more comfortable, affordable, washable, and reusable.
Double mask ( surgical under cloth) or layering of different masks
Surgical masks can be layered underneath cloth masks for improved fit and filtration. The cloth mask holds the surgical mask in place. Layering masks may be less comfortable and less breathable than a single mask alone, but is more effective at controlling the spread of the delta variant than either of the masks alone.
"So ….can face masks help slow the spread of the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) that causes COVID-19? Yes!" he said.
"Face masks combined with other preventive measures, such as getting vaccinated, frequent hand-washing and physical distancing, can help slow the spread of the virus. Mask up and keep safe!" Doc Dean advised. (PIA-NCR)