In what places or situations can I remove the mask and when is it advisable to continue using it?

April 09, 2022 09:00 | Reading time: 6 minutes
April 09, 2022 09:00
| Reading time: 6 minutes

If you only have a few seconds, read these lines:

  • Nicolás Kreplak, minister of health for the province of Buenos Aires, announced this week that the chinstrap will be optional in work, leisure and education spaces, although it will continue to be compulsory on public transport.
  • Other neighborhoods, such as the city of Buenos Aires, have adopted the relaxation of chinstraps in schools.
  • Consulted by Chequeado, a group of experts advise on where and when to safely remove your mask and where it is best to continue using it.

The Minister of Health of the province of Buenos Aires, Nicolás Kreplak, a d Wednesday afternoon that from Thursday, April 7, the use of the chinstrap in the province of Buenos Aires has become optional in work, leisure and education spaces, except in public transport where it will remain compulsory.

The province’s decision
was based in about “10 weeks of sustained decline in COVID-19 cases, early flu outbreak controlled, flu vaccination campaign started and over 95% of the population immune to coronavirus”. Anyway, Creplak Detained on Radio La Rouge which, from the Province, continues to recommend “strongly the use of the chinstrap”, especially in closed places.

For his part, in the city of Buenos Aires, the Minister of Health of Buenos Aires, Fernán Quirós Detained during a press conference that a decision has not yet been made on the change in the use of the chinstrap in the confined spaces of the territory of Buenos Aires, and that “what are the best strategies for each week” will be communicated according to the next epidemiological evaluations . Currently, in the city of Buenos Aires, the chinstrap is not mandatory in open places and at school. Mendoza also decided the relaxation of the jugular in the schools of this province.

In a low case setting and given the decision of some districts to make chinstrap use optional, in many situations the decision to wear a mask or not is a personal one. In which places or situations is it wise to continue wearing the mask? What do the experts recommend? We tell you in this note.

Indoor spaces such as supermarkets or theaters

If we’ve learned one thing after months of the pandemic, it’s that the risk of COVID-19 contagion is greater in enclosed spaces without ventilation than in open spaces or outdoors. For it, specialists continue to focus on natural cross ventilation.

I think the key is the places where ventilation or good air quality cannot be ensured, it seems to me that in these places it would be advisable to continue wearing a mask, that is i.e. interiors with inadequate ventilation, cinemas, airplanes, supermarkets“, he underlined checked infectiologist Leda Guzzi, member of the Argentine Society of Infectious Diseases (SADI).

In the same vein, Lautaro De Vedia, former president of SADI, stressed that it should continue to be used in public transport and “basicallyin closed places where there is not good ventilation, such as theaters”. In places like sports halls, for example, “ideally it would be wide open,” added the infectious disease specialist.

To know when an environment is sufficiently ventilated, i.e. when there is enough air renewal, carbon dioxide (CO2) meters can be used. I know recommended increase the opening of doors and windows when the CO2 level exceeds 700 ppm (parts per million air mass)

Erin Bromage, an associate professor of biology who studies infectious diseases at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, suggests an analogy to cigarette smoke: If someone smoked, would the smell of cigarettes quickly fill the air? “If so, so would the virus. It would be wise to wear a mask. Otherwise, you are unlikely to be infected”, mentioned at the New York Times.

Jorge Aliaga, researcher at the University of Buenos Aires (UBA) and Conicet, illustrated the case with another examplethat of drinking water that has been in contact with dozens of people in a swimming pool. “The air we breathe must be clean”, said the specialist, to which he added: “In closed places, in addition to time and short distance, you have 2 additional factors: the more people you have in the environment, the more people will expire and therefore in less time you will have the same probability that the air is contaminated”.

“What would my concept be? Unless you are very close, it is valid for an open or closed environment, the way to be sure is: if you are going to be at least 60 centimeters away, and we have something that ensures there is good ventilation, we can rest assured that we are safe without masks, especially now that we are vaccinated and there are not so many cases. That is to say, that the likelihood of someone being contagious is low,” Aliaga pointed out.

Outdoor or well-ventilated spaces

Can you stop using the chinstrap in a well-ventilated space? The answer could be yes, as long as it’s not crowded and there’s physical distancing, and emphasizing hand washing.“, added Elena Obieta, infectious disease doctor, member of SADI and head of the communicable disease department of the municipality of San Isidro.

In other words, in addition to the airflow, it is also necessary to take into account the affluence and the size of the space. “We are entering autumn-winter and we still have not vaccinated the target population against influenza. Thus closed, poorly ventilated places, such as public transport or the theater, without physical distance, without masks and without ventilation, are clearly a probable source of infection.Obieta pointed out.

Capacity is essential. If it is 100%, the risk is obviously higher; with more people in a small space, the risk increasesGuzzi agreed.

Regarding concerts, for example, Bromage, who has helped touring musical groups assess COVID-19 risks throughout the pandemic, told The New York Times that most outdoor concerts are safe: “ the risk is concentrated mainly in the areas at the front part of the stage, where people are on top of each other singing and doing physical exertion”.

In an open environment, the ventilation is enormous and the dilution, that is to say the quantity of air available for the air that one breathes to dilute, is enormous. In an open environment, unless you are very close to the other, very close, I would say that there is no problem not wearing a mask; using a chinstrap in an open environment would only make sense if you are very close,” Aliaga pointed out.

Public transport or planes

With regard to public transport, experts agree that it is a good measure to maintain their use there, since in buses and metros there are many strangers going in and out of a small closed space.

Traveling on public transport increases the risk of catching and spreading COVID-19 by bringing people into close contact with each other, often for extended periods of time, and by exposing them to frequently touched surfaces. Air travel often requires spending time in lines at security checkpoints and in busy airport terminals. (…) Maintain a distance of 6 feet [N. de R.: en aproximación, unos 2 metros] from other people is often difficult on public transport, ”explains the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC, for its acronym in English).

Some specific situations

Masks can also be important in cases where a person is not vaccinated against the coronavirus or interacts with unvaccinated people, who are at increased risk of hospitalization and death from COVID-19.

“The unvaccinated have a more accentuated role, as they tend to have higher viral loads. As we have seen, in the last wave with Ómicron, the transmission was uniform, the vaccinated also have a viral load and transmit, although the risk is much lower, if they have up-to-date diagrams”, has explained Guzzi.

For people with compromised immunity, for example, or who live with someone who has it, it’s a good idea to continue wearing a mask and maintain social distancing from strangers, especially in indoor unventilated areas.

The masks are intended primarily to reduce the emission of virus-laden droplets and aerosols, which is particularly relevant for asymptomatic infected people who feel well and may be unaware of their infectiousness. But masks also help reduce inhalation of these droplets and aerosols by the wearer.

as we count in this note, well-fitting chinstraps provide more protection and the filtering capacity of the chinstrap material and the use made of this element affects the possibilities of contagion of COVID-19 and other respiratory diseases.

“In the face of winter, the use of the chinstrap is a very appropriate measure to prevent coronavirus and other viruses. When spring comes, I think we will have more elements to judge the evolution of the pandemic and it will be easier to make decisions,” concluded Guzzi.

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