Coronavirus: If you can’t socially distance, wear a face mask or use a bandana or scarf – Professor Devi Sridhar and Lois King

If you cover your nose and mouth, it will help stop the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus, write Professor Devi Sridhar and Lois King.
Wearing a face mask can dramatically cut rates of coronavirus infection (Picture: PA)Wearing a face mask can dramatically cut rates of coronavirus infection (Picture: PA)
Wearing a face mask can dramatically cut rates of coronavirus infection (Picture: PA)

After 12 weeks of lockdown, it’s great to finally have more shops opening and more interaction with other people. And none of us want to go back into lockdown if cases start to rise again.

One simple way to slow transmission is the use of a face covering when it is not possible to distance from others, such as on public transport or in shops.

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This can be a bandana, a cloth home-made one, or even a scarf. Just make sure it covers your nose and mouth.

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Recent research from a German study showed that the daily growth rate of coronavirus infections fell by 40 per cent after mask-use was made compulsory, suggesting that masks can significantly reduce the spread of infection by blocking droplets escaping from our mouths and noses.

These findings were similar to a study from the University of Edinburgh, which showed that masks can limit how far exhaled breath travels out by as much as 90 per cent.

You could be a silent carrier

Coronavirus spreads through droplets usually from someone who is coughing, sneezing, breathing or speaking.

We now know that some people can be silent carriers for the virus and feel completely fine, but still spread the virus to others.

This could even be you right now. So to make sure that you protect others from your droplets, just pop on a mask when you’re less than two metres away from someone else, and they should also wear a face covering to protect you as well.

Even from a psychological standpoint, seeing masked faces in public and wearing one ourselves serves as a reminder that we are still in a pandemic and to keep at a safe distance from others.

It also reminds us to avoid touching our noses and faces which is another way the virus can spread from hands to inside the body.

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Some groups of people cannot wear a mask for health reasons, such as those with severe breathing problems, which is worth keeping in mind in case you see people not wearing face coverings and are wondering why.

Keys, phone and a face covering

And Scotland is not alone in this. Before the outbreak of Covid-19, masks were seldom seen outside of East Asia, where face coverings are worn regularly to protect from bad air pollution – and where they also have experience with previous coronavirus outbreaks such as Mers and Sars.

Now Europe is catching up, with countries like Germany, Spain, Italy and the Czech Republic making mask-use compulsory in enclosed public spaces such as shops and on public transport.

In the UK, masks are now widely available for the general public in stores and supermarkets, while some people have made their own cotton masks at home.

As Scotland moves into the next phase, and the easing of lockdown continues, little behavioural changes by all of us can make a big difference.

So just as you grab your keys and your phone, remember to also bring your face covering with you when leaving home.

More than ever, it is important that we think of our society as a whole and not just ourselves.

Professor Devi Sridhar is chair of global public health at Edinburgh University’s medical school.

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Lois King is an Edinburgh University PhD student with a masters degree in public health and a BSc in biomedical sciences.

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