Is it appropriate to stop using outdoor masks?

Mª Africa González Fernández

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At the beginning of the pandemic Covid-19, with the open debate between the use of masks or not, came the voice of a renowned Korean expert, the doctor Kim Woo-joo, who indicated that the use of masks and hygiene are the most effective measures to reduce infections. Kim Woo-joo criticized the initial tepidity of the authorities at the international level in imposing one of the most effective measures against infectious agents that are transmitted through the air.

The use of masks was very widespread in operating rooms to avoid infections in patients, and we saw them in images from China to avoid air pollution. In Spain we were not used to using them, and initially people were reluctant to do so. But the obligation led to its use being normalized, and clearly has been key as a preventive measure of contagion.

Now it is proposed by the Government of Spain to stop using this protection in outdoor areas. Is it an appropriate measure? Is it the right time?

There are several aspects, for and against, from the point of view of the pandemic and the current situation in Spain.

Arguments in favor

-The good weather makes people pass more time outdoors, where it has been seen that there is less probability of contagion.

-The vaccination (especially of the most vulnerable personnel), which causes the hospital pressure in the ward and ICU to decrease.

-The incidence rate of the virus is decreasing, making it more difficult for mass infections to occur.

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-The risk of contagion is very low when we are in little crowded outdoor areas (beaches, forests, rural areas).

-The heat, in some regions, makes wearing a mask outside very uncomfortable.

Counterarguments

-The community immunity of 70% has not yet been reached, there is still a lot.

-The young population (18-40 years), which is the one that carries out the most social activities, she is not vaccinated yet.

-There is a possible distribution of new variants (like delta or indian variant) with higher transmission rate. In Britain it is now the majority variant.

-Removing the masks can lead to a relaxation of the measures that involve other attitudes: not respecting a safety distance, hugging, yelling, singing, etc.

-There are urban areas with many people who live in a small space (shopping areas, entry-exit of transport …).

-Tourist influx and greater mobility of the population.

They should continue to be used in highly populated areas

The removal of outdoor masks indiscriminately throughout Spain should be taken with caution. We should put on the mask when we believe that the situation, even outdoors, requires it, especially in large cities with highly populated areas.

Until we have a higher percentage of vaccinated people, we cannot claim victory. Israel, one of the countries we can imitate, allowed masks to be eliminated (even indoors), except for people who had not been vaccinated, but recently, after having new outbreaks in some areas of the country, it has imposed them again.

It is very possible that the masks stay between us, especially when we go to hospitals or health centers; and if we have colds, we will have to use them so as not to spread it at work or when we move in public transport with many people. We will no longer be surprised to see them.

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Let us act with common sense and responsibility. Less is left.

Mª Africa González Fernández. Professor of Immunology. CINBIO (Center for Biomedical Research), University of Vigo.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

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