Amid new guidelines issued by US CDC on easing mask guidelines there, and lifting of curbs in 14 districts in Maharashtra, experts discuss the way forward for the public
A woman puts a mask on her child at LTT. Experts have stressed on the need to continue wearing masks till the last Covid case is reported. File pic
Even as the Covid-19 restrictions are being lifted from 14 districts in the state from today, the government as well as health experts have cautioned the public at large to continue wearing masks. Interestingly, the decision has come only a few days after the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) in the US issued new recommendations last week for its citizens to go mask-free in areas that are considered low or medium risk. Health experts explain the implications the CDC recommendation may have in India.
Fresh debate on masking
“The US CDC issued new guidance last week on when Americans should consider wearing masks to protect themselves against Covid-19. Under the new guidance, the public health system is connected real-time to determine the rate of new Covid-19 cases requiring hospitalisation versus percentage of beds occupied in every district, and based on this, areas are marked as low, medium or high-risk zones.
This will give people a chance to get a break from wearing masks when the risk is low as well as ensure preparedness in case the situation worsens again. As of now, roughly 70 per cent of the American population will fall in low and medium-risk districts, and optimists are recommending removal of masks for them. This speaks volumes about the level of public fatigue about Covid restrictions,” said Dr Subhash Hira, professor of Global Health at University of Washington-Seattle and advisor to WHO-TDR-Geneva.
“Several institutions including WHO Covid panels in Geneva are bracing up for the emergence of new variants sooner than later, with plans to develop multiplex vaccines using a cocktail of four variants of coronavirus to provide a wider base of immune protection. During the development of multiplex vaccines and stages of testing their efficacy, it is very risky to discontinue barriers like masks and physical distancing in closed public spaces, ie schools, cinema theatres, gyms, restaurants, cars, AC trains, buses etc. As rightly suggested by Deputy Chief Minister of Maharashtra Ajit Pawar, let us not discard masks and physical distancing till such time that Covid-19 pandemic is declared as ended for good by authorities concerned,” he said adding, “Most scientists and demographers believe that the end-point of the pandemic will likely extend till 2027. The world has lost over 60 lakh people so far, while the count is still ticking.” Dr Hira added, “Furthermore, persons who are immune-compromised due to age or chronic illnesses should adhere to use of masks and physical distancing.”
Masking a must
Dr Wiqar Shaikh, professor of Medicine, Grant Medical College and Sir J J Group of Hospitals, explained that CDC’s new mask guideline will not immediately affect mask orders on public transportation and Americans would need to wear a mask to avail public transport services like trains, buses, and flights. He, however, stressed that there is a need to wear masks and follow Covid protocols in India still, especially in view of the expected fourth wave which could come by June 2022.
“Though there are a variety of advisories by health authorities across the globe pertaining to masks, there is a lot of confusion and callousness in our country. The number of Covid cases have dwindled, but it is advisable to continue using a mask especially in public places till the last case is reported,” said Dr Ketan Vagholkar, professor of surgery, DY Patil Medical College.
‘Need our own mask culture’
According to Dr Santosh Bansode, Head of the Department, Emergency Medicine, Wockhardt hospitals, “States across the world are thinking of putting an end to masking, but we need to have our own mask culture in India because firstly, our country is highly and densely populated. Second, the population is concentrated in cities and metros. Third, there is always a huge rush in public transport. Fourth, we majorly have small shops in markets which are overcrowded. And last but not the least, any large public turnout may make us more vulnerable for easy transmission.”
“We have to consider the fact that even the fully vaccinated are contracting the disease, albeit mild. We cannot afford to ignore the elderly and the unvaccinated. Hence we must design our own mask culture so that it will be safe for all of us,” said Dr Bansode.
Month when the fourth wave is expected to hit