Calls to trade cloth masks for respirators to counter the wave of Omicron

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“Of course, the worst option would be to wear nothing at all. But if you have a cloth mask, it won’t provide that high degree of filtration,” she said.

“While this may prevent very large droplets from being inhaled or exhaled, we know that we generate incredibly small aerosols (they can be less than five microns) and so aerosols this small are unlikely to be effectively trapped in a fabric mask.

Ms Cole said surgical masks had better filtration, but did not fit snugly on the face.

Single-use respirator masks are still fairly widely available in Australia, although they are more expensive than surgical masks (three P2 masks at Bunnings cost $11.50), prompting Ms Cole and others to ask let them be reduced by the government.

Air quality expert Professor Lidia Morawska suggested subsidies for breathing masks, at least for a short time.

She said with so many infections, high-quality masks were now one of the essential measures to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Australia.

Earlier this week, the head of Monash University’s Epidemiological Modeling Unit, Associate Professor James Trauer, called for high-quality masks to be widely distributed to the public.

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Occupational physician Malcolm Sim, who has served on infection control groups for state and federal governments, said he doesn’t think subsidizing respirator masks is the top priority, given competing funding demands. . He said support for rapid antigen testing would likely be higher.

But Professor Sim said people should wear a properly fitted face mask, particularly when going to care homes, prisons or other indoor settings where they are close to others.

“I see so many people wearing regular masks the wrong way – under the chin, under the nose – they have big gaps on the side, they flip the straps over and cross them over and create a big gap on the side.”

Professor Sim said he was also concerned that people still did not understand the higher risk posed by indoor environments.

“It worries me a bit to see restaurants where people are sitting down to eat and drink, talking loudly, close by,” he said. “I’m all for the hospitality industry getting a boost because it’s really suffered over the last couple of years, but it’s probably one of your highest risk situations.”

When used by frontline workers, P2 and N95 masks require fit testing to ensure they create a firm seal on a person’s face, but Ms Cole said when they were used by the public, it was only necessary for people to find the most suitable model for them. .

Such masks are not suitable for bearded people.

Ms Cole said when buying a respirator mask, people should look for the AS/NZS code 1716 to ensure they meet the Australian standard, or NIOSH to indicate they have been approved by the US regulators.

For those concerned about the cost and environmental impact of single-use masks, she said, N95 and P2 masks could be reused repeatedly by the public in a community setting (for example, up to ‘until the rubber band breaks) and there were reusable elastomeric respirators that were “incredibly effective”.

When asked if the government had any advice for the public on how to choose the most protective mask, the Federal Department of Health provided a link to a list of advice from the Disease Control Expert Group. government infections. The group has previously underestimated the importance of airborne spread of COVID-19 during the pandemic and lagged behind major global organizations in updating its advice.

In some advice published by the group, masks are described as an “extra precaution” – the key advice being to wash or sanitize your hands, physically distance and use the COVIDSafe app.

The advice also says people should “make sure [the mask] covers your nose and mouth and fits snugly under your chin, across the bridge of your nose and against the sides of your face”.

Asked about the weakening of P2 masks for the public, a spokeswoman for the Federal Ministry of Health said “a supply of P2 and surgical masks remains in the national medical stock as a strategic reserve and will be directed to areas that need it”.

In the past, material from the stockpile has been diverted to state health departments, the disabled and elderly sectors, and border personnel.

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