In a bombshell announcement, the Government of India’s COVID-19 Task Force head recommended that the populace begin to wear Coronavirus protective face masks at home as well. Doctor V K Paul, the head of the task force and member of the NITI Ayog said in a statement to the press that, “If there is a COVID-19 positive case in the family, it is important that the person wears a mask even indoors because the virus can spread to others in the home.” He went on to say, “I would rather go on to say that the time has come that we start wearing masks at home even otherwise.”
Dr. Paul made these suggestions the day the country witnessed a record surge of 352,991 new Coronavirus cases. India’s healthcare infrastructure has sustained crippling blows owing to the overwhelming number of daily cases, lack of critical medical oxygen, hospital beds and other essential medical supplies. The past few weeks have also witnessed emotional breakdowns by doctors and other medical staff, who have expressed their helplessness and appealed to the public for adhere to guidelines. The central government have mentioned that these recommendations were made to curb the chain of transmission, in a bid to reduce the soaring number of active cases and limit the strain on the already taxed medical establishment.
What is the rationale behind wearing masks at home?
A significant proportion of those who have contacted the Coronavirus remain asymptomatic and inadvertently spread the virus to those at home. This has particularly been the case with the nationwide second wave, in which people are contracting the virus despite largely remaining at home. Speaking about this phenomenon, Dr. Randeep Guleria, the Director of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi, “If one looks at the pattern in which the Coronavirus is spreading, we know that it is a highly infectious virus. What we have seen over the last few weeks is that from one family member, the whole family is getting infected, something which was not happening in the past. Therefore, to prevent or decrease the spread and the overall number of cases, it is pertinent to maintain COVID-19 appropriate behaviour.”
“Inside the house I would say that not only wearing a mask, however, ensure that windows be kept open as there should be good cross ventilation, as we know the virus tends to remain in the air for a longer period of time,” further elaborated the AIIMS Director. Leading medical experts have been researching the virus right from its outbreak in Wuhan last year, with some studies over the year shedding new light on the nature of the virus, claiming that six-feet social distancing is simply not enough. Leading Epidemiologist, Dr. Eric Fiegl-Ding opined, “COVID-19 is an airborne virus. If you are indoors, maintaining six-feet distance is important however not enough. Cross-ventilation can serve to mitigate the risk of the spread of infections indoors. Dining indoors is particularly dangerous as people are not masked while eating and usually interact.” This only adds to the risk of spread.
Dr. Paul also said, “With this new advice the center is not only aiming to prevent the spread and break the chain of transmission, however, also protect individuals who are at a significantly higher risk.” The Indian government cited an American academic paper which indicated that those wearing masks at home run less a risk of contracting the virus. The research paper highlights that the risk of contracting the Coronavirus is absolutely miniscule; 1.5% when both COVID-19 positive and those who have not contracted the virus share space indoors while wearing protective masks.