Despite India’s seemingly unmanageable Covid-19 caseload touching 12 lakh and the death tally close to 28,000, it has taken the government nearly seven months to officially advise that the use of valved respirator N-95 masks “is detrimental to the measures adopted for preventing the spread of coronavirus.”
The Director General Health Services (DGHS), Ministry of Health, in a letter to the Principal Secretaries of health and medical education of states, has said, “ It is to bring to your knowledge that the use of valved respirator N-95 masks is detrimental to the measures adopted for preventing the spread of coronavirus, as it does not prevent the virus from escaping out of the mask.''
The letter by the DGHS Rajiv Garg says, “ I request you to instruct all concerned to follow the use of face/mouth cover and prevent inappropriate use of N-95 masks.” The letter says that it has been observed that there is “inappropriate use” of N-95 masks, particularly those with valved respirators, by the public, other than designated health workers.
Senior pulmonologists in Delhi say that the DGHS letter on preventing the use of valved respirator N-95 masks has come a little too late in the day. It may be recalled that on July 5 India overtook Russia to become the third largest corona infected country in the world.
Dr Bharat Gopal, a Delhi-based senior consultant pulmonologist, who has been treating Covid patients, says, “From the very beginning, the N-95 masks were supposed to be used only by health care workers in view of the acute global shortage. However, gradually, with increased production and easier availability, N-95 masks found their way into the hands of the common man. Inadvertently, the common public started using a lot of N-95 masks, not realising that despite wearing the mask, they could be still spreading the virus, in case they were asymptomatic carriers. The valve only protects the person who is wearing it. The virus can still spread while exhaling through the valve. “
Speaking on conditions of anonymity, another senior pulmonologist said that although the government had never asked the public to wear N-95 masks, a letter of the kind put out by the Director General Health Services on use of the valved respirator N-95 masks as being counter productive, should have been put out earlier.
Another senior pulmonologist agrees that the government has woken up very late, as the risk of community transmission stares us in the face in many States like Gujarat and Maharashtra.
Dr M Wali, a former Physician to the President, who has treated many Covid patients, is of the view that it is imperative to wear a surgical mask over a mask to defeat corona. “ A single mask is not effective.”
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