Sun | Aug 1, 2021

Mask or no mask? - Experts cautious as data shows asymptomatic people likely spreading virus

Published:Friday | April 3, 2020 | 12:28 AMRomario Scott/Gleaner Writer
Professor Peter Figueroa
Professor Peter Figueroa

Widespread use of masks could reduce community transmission of the dreaded COVID-19 disease. But with limited numbers in the island, one leading epidemiologist, Professor Peter Figueroa, is warning that the practice in Jamaica could leave healthcare workers reeling.

Both the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have repeatedly said that there is no need for members of the public to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing.

However, a growing number of public-health experts are mooting the wearing of masks in public to help prevent spreading the coronavirus as new data shows people without visible symptoms are more likely spreading COVID-19 than previously believed.

“In the US, there are hospitals where the health providers can’t get masks, so you have to deal with the supply [issue],” Figueroa said as he sought to highlight the risk associated with a rush on masks.

“Those masks that we have, if you are talking about Jamaica, they need to be reserved for those who need them most until we have an adequate supply,” the infectious disease specialist told The Gleaner yesterday.

Figueroa, a former chief medical officer in the health ministry, said that if people are maintaining physical distancing, then the mask would make very little contribution in helping them to keep the virus at bay.

“There is no question that some people are asymptomatic or have minor symptoms, but they do not seem to be the persons who are primary responsible for transmitting the virus,” he said. “Being that 25 per cent may be asymptomatic does not mean that they are responsible for 25 per cent of the transmission of the virus.”

On Wednesday, Dr Jacquiline Bisasor McKenzie, chief medical officer in the Ministry of Health and Wellness, recommended that Jamaicans with symptoms of COVID-19 wear masks in public.

“In terms of asking the general population to wear a mask, we have not reached that point, but we are looking at what is happening across the world, and we will re-evaluate the situation,” she said.

Figueroa agrees.

“Anybody who has a cold, and anyone who has respiratory symptoms should be wearing a mask because the possibility is the respiratory symptoms are due to COVID,” he said.

He also recommended mask-wearing for a some persons who are considered high risk, especially in crowded areas.