Beware, those who are elderly, unvaccinated, and have other diseases, even the Omicron virus can lead to severe illness and even death.

The pandemic isn’t over yet. Yes, we hear that Omicron is supposedly “mild”, and most of us are fully vaccinated. “It’s just a fever for a few days”, “they’ve reduced the quarantine period”, so it is not severe, are comments being heard everywhere. But, it is not so simple, please be careful. Even this supposedly “mild” version of Covid isn’t like the usual flu.

In medical language, mild merely means you may not need supplemental oxygen, treatment in an ICU, or put on a ventilator. For those infected, the fever, tiredness and body ache can all be quite severe in the first few days. Also, the problem is, even if the fraction of serious cases are small since the overall number of cases in this wave is exceptionally high, it will still put a lot of pressure on an already stressed medical system.

For those who are elderly, unvaccinated, and have other diseases, even the Omicron virus can lead to severe illness and even death. And this has repercussions, not just for Covid care, but access to all other kinds of medical care for those who may need it. In several hospitals, many health care workers are Covid positive, and if they have to be away from work for even a week, that makes it very difficult for our healthcare system.

We may now know a little bit about the SARS-CoV-2 virus, but we don’t know a lot about this virus and especially about the new variants. More importantly, we have honestly almost no clue about this virus’s potential long-term impacts.
However, what we do know for sure is that masks work, and vaccines work. Masks are perhaps the easiest and most effective way to reduce the impact of the pandemic.

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But for masks to help, they must be used properly. Looking around train stations, in city buses, in the streets, etc., unfortunately, many do not wear masks correctly. Remember, even the best N95 mask is useless if it does not cover the nose and mouth and seal tightly against the face. So the mask must be one that fits properly.

At the risk of repeating this message, we cannot emphasise enough that a properly-fitting mask should cover one’s nose, mouth and chin at all times and leave no gaps over the nose, on the sides of the face, or around the chin. The mask should be tight enough to stay in place even when talking or moving around. And yes, there is no need to remove the mask while talking on the phone. Please do not keep lowering your mask from your nose and readjusting it every so often. It is best to minimise touching the outside of your mask.

What mask does one use, and the easiest way to ensure safe reuse

There are cloth masks (which must have at least three layers), the typical blue pleated surgical masks, and the ‘N95’ or similar masks, which are the most efficient in filtering small particles. The N95 mask filters 95 per cent of tiny 0.3-micrometre sized particles and is usually tied behind the head. The KN95 mask is similar and usually has ear-loops (N95 was originally a US specification, with KN95 being the Chinese one, Korea has KF94, and the equivalent in Europe is FFP2). A high-quality “surgical mask usually has the same filter layer as the N95 but is not designed to seal tightly against the face.

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Cloth masks are convenient and can, of course, easily be washed every day and dried and reused. However, they are not as efficient as N95 filtering out the tiniest particles. We now know that Covid is an airborne disease where the viral particles can be carried by very small droplets that remain in the air for a long time. Hence, masks with better filtration efficiency for small particles, if worn correctly, could offer better protection.

If one can afford N95 masks (they are now not that expensive), they are pretty easy to reuse. Else, “double masking” with a surgical mask inside and a cloth mask outside that can seal down the edges of the surgical mask provides much better protection than either cloth or surgical masks by itself.
Remember, the virus does not survive on any surface for more than 96 hours. Hence, if there is a five-day gap between using the same mask again, it is safe to be reused. If one has a set of five masks (label them) and uses mask one on Day 1, mask five on Day 5, the first mask can be safely reused on Day 6, and so on. Alternately, you can have one mask for each day of the week – a Monday mask, a Tuesday mask, and so on. Just keep the mask in an open, airy place, maybe in a paper bag.

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Of course, given the overall pollution and dust load in our environment, one can’t do this forever since the dust particles will slowly clog up the pores of the mask. But a set of masks can easily be cycled 5-10 times before they need to be replaced. Most likely, the mask will need to be replaced because the straps get loose or come off rather than for a decrease in the ability to filter. Given a choice, a mask that can be tied tightly around the head, than just being fixed by an elastic band around the ears provides a much better fit and protection.

By using masks correctly and getting vaccinated, we can significantly reduce the probability of us coming down with the virus or having severe disease. It is up to each of us to do our bit in lessening the impact of the pandemic. We fervently appeal to you to please be cautious and use common sense. #KhabarLive #hydnews