COVID: To Mask Up Or Not Is The Question

Following a surge in Covid variants and cases, a potential comeback of Covid protocols has sparked a debate globally.

People wearing mask as a precaution against Covid-19. (Representative Image)

A recent debate over re-instating COVID protocol has been brought to the fore, following a surge in COVID cases globally. While one school of thought stands by- the populace being invariably infected by the virus at one point or the other as part of an ongoing process of evolution, the other swears by averting any such possibility with all available artillery. 

The UK’s medical experts stress upon an ensuing endemic of Covid-19 and hence, the need to re-introduce face masks. “Without ramping up surveillance, and in the face of waning immunity, we are travelling into winter more vulnerable and with blinkers on,” warned Christina Pagel, a member of the Independent Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies. They advise to adopt any and every precautionary measure, keeping in view the lack of infrastructure to deal with a surge in cases, Covid or not. Prof Pagel has further predicted the new wave to potentially cause extreme pressure on the health service, and repeat last winter’s “unprecedented” NHS crisis of Covid, flu and respiratory virus, that came all around the same time.

The USA has also lately witnessed a surge in cases and hence reintroduced the mask mandate. The latest CDC data presented that COVID-19 hospitalisations driven by the spread of new variants, were up by 30% across Georgia. Schools and Colleges have even imposed a ban on large gatherings, apart from mandating the use of masks, while directing students who have been tested positive, to isolate for at least five days and meanwhile, attend classes virtually. 

The worry of a new wave of infections has been cited as a reason to reintroduce covid protocol measure, in an attempt to contain the virus from spreading. And anytime the number of cases begins to climb, everyone resorts to employing face masks and sanitisers as safety measures. 

The recent variant that has caught the eyes of doctors and scientists, is BA.2.86(nicknamed pirola), because of the rising mutations in its spike protein, the molecule on the virus surface that enables it to enter human cells. The variant is also a target for the vaccines, so any change in the behaviour of the virus resulting from a spike will significantly effect the outcome. However, seldom has been any literature found to secure the aforementioned claim. 

The onset of the pandemic witnessed people protecting themselves and others by covering their face, although the prevailing opinion deemed its public use, ineffective. 

The use of masks or any extension of a face covering has since been a long contested topic, when it came to safety and transmission.  Claims of their effectiveness and ineffectiveness paints the picture as too complicated, and is supplemented with the lack of elaborate, well-designed studies. Keeping in mind that slight but real differences can be difficult to take into account, as the actual adherence to the protocol is negligible. If the mask is only worn as per convenience, it gets difficult to manage or observe its stated effect. 

People have, however, been observed to not take anything seriously until faced with a barrage of explicit pictures inciting ‘emergency’ or ‘caution’. The Pandemic witnessed this trend of people taking notice or adhering to the mask protocol only on the sight of visual imagery of people struggling and being admitted in the hospital. Hence, in the absence of an urgency any regulations might lead to non-compliance and hence yield ineffective results. 

Mask, when introduced at the onset of the pandemic, was a part of the broader package of measures, which too did not necessarily prevent any further wave of infection or lockdown. Now, an order to abide by masks alone is deemed to not produce much effect either. The incessant and inevitable questioning on its absolute necessity, if met with any failure to control infections, will further sabotage the use of masks as a part of an elaborate, multi-component safety measure.