Mask must even at home? Experts say it's meant for those with infected family member

Express News Service
NEW DELHI: The government on Monday asked everyone to start wearing masks even inside homes in the wake of a ferocious second wave of Covid pandemic in India, but doctors and experts say that there should be some clear context in which this needs to be followed.

“If there is Covid positive case in the family, it is very important that the person wears a mask even indoors because the virus can spread to others at home,” Niti Aayog Member (Health) V K Paul, who also heads the national Covid task force, had said in a press briefing by the Union Health Ministry on Covid status in India.

“I would rather go on to say that the time has come that we start wearing a mask at home even otherwise,” he had also said, adding that so far, the government would talk about wearing mask outdoors, but since the infection has spread, people should wear a mask even at home.

The statement comes amid concerns that the SARS CoV 2 strain or strains in circulation may be much more infectious and emerging understanding that the dominant route of transmission is person to person through aerosols while surface contamination may have little role to play in the progression of the pandemic.

Many of the doctors, who have been treating Covid patients for over a year now, said that the statement seems largely intended to emphasize the use of masks due to the exponential rise in infections across India.

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Yatin Mehta, an intensivist at Medanta, Gurugram, said that if a family member is positive, they should be completely isolated and people should wear masks at home. “Otherwise, it’s impractical and really not necessary. This (the statement by Paul) was probably issued to emphasize masking,” he said.

Shikha Panwar, an ICU doctor from Faridabad who has managed numerous Covid patients since the beginning of the pandemic, too underscored that various studies have shown that wearing the mask at the first onset of the symptom decreases secondary attack rate drastically.

“In my view, it is an important step especially if a family member shows symptoms, the best is to isolate him immediately and all other members of the family to wear a mask and protect them from each other,” she said. “Also, if we use mask then even if we fall sick the severity of diseases is less as the viral load is drastically lower while the high viral load is associated with more severe disease.”

Some other experts pointed out that apart from being applicable to families with known or symptomatic infected members, masking at home can also be useful in households when there’s a member who goes out every day or at high risk by nature of work.

“Masking at home for everyone all the time may be logical (given the circumstances) but often not practical,” said critical care expert Raymond Savio from Chennai.

He also pointed out that there is scanty information on what long-term impact can the mask use cause if average people wear it for long hours every day.

“We doctors wear it easily for at least 12 hours or more each day. But earlier it was recommended that it’s not safe, in terms of efficiency, to wear for more than 6 hours but this depends on actual use,” he said.

Savio said that the guidance issued on Monday may be applicable to frontline workers with direct exposure and may not apply to those with low risk of exposure.