With the leader of the free world, President Donald Trump, being seen wearing a face mask in public for the first time, the issue of wearing a face mask in the current pandemic has become a more urgent one.

Associate Professor Vicki Kotsirilos AM (of La Trobe and Western Sydney Universities) said  that while maintaining a physical distance of 1.5m from other people and scrupulous hand hygiene were the most effective ways of reducing the spread of COVID-19 wearing a face mask was advisable particularly in Victoria.

Prof Kotsirilos told Neos Kosmos that in situations where the strict adherence of physical distancing were not kept such as in supermarket aisles, shopping centres, public transport areas or on narrow outdoor tracks then the wearing of masks offered additional protection against either contracting the virus or passing it on to others.

She added that wearing gloves in situation where there was no access to washing hands or alcohol gel may also provide additional protection.

“A recent study by the World Health Organisation (WHO) demonstrated that face masks reduced the risk of infection by 67% and up to 95% if the specialised N95 masks were worn,” she said.

Up to 80 per cent of people who have contracted the COVID-19 virus either showed no symptoms or symptoms that could be mistaken for a mild flu and thus discounted, posing a real danger to the 20 percent for whom the virus is a major threat.

“Being well can be deceptive – you may still be a carrier of COVID-19 infection and not know it and spread the virus. So if required to go out to public areas during lockdown, wearing a mask is advisable even if people feel or appear to be well. Strict measures are still required,” warned the professor.

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“Even if you show mild respiratory symptoms, you should get tested for COVID-19 infection. If you have tested positive you should not be out.”

What might be mild symptoms for one person may be devastating for someone else.

She added that buying or making your own cloth face mask was okay so long as there were three to four layers of cloth with a high thread count in the mask and which included a water resistant outer layer, and you wash it daily after use.

She said there may be an association between COVID-19 and winter but that it had nothing to do with the low temperatures. The real factor for spreading the virus was close proximity indoors and poor ventilation when in public areas which could spread the virus – hence the pronounced need to wear a mask as added protection if required to be in public spaces. A mask is not generally required at home.

One was less likely to contract the virus when outside in cold weather than indoors with close proximity to infected people.

There are mixed studies about the role of vitamin D supplementation but according to Professor Kotsirilos some studies demonstrate that Vitamin D may reduce the risk of respiratory virus infections. A recent study found Vitamin D was safe and reduced the risk of acute respiratory infections amongst those who received daily vitamin D.

There are no high quality studies for the role of vitamin D and COVID-19 infection. Prof Kotsirilos said that Vitamin D deficiency was a common problem in Victoria during winter given its low latitude and reduced daylight hours. Vitamin D is produced by the sun from UVB exposure on skin. Little is obtained from food sources.

She said that while paler skinned people could get enough Vitamin D from just 15 minutes exposure to the sun each day, people with naturally darker skin, the elderly, nursing home residents, those who conceal their skin with clothing, or who worked indoors most of the day would need more time in the sun If that is not possible, then “one or two capsules (of 1000 international units) of Vitamin D each day is safe if you are high risk of vitamin D deficiency,” she said.

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Associate Professor Vicki Kotsirilos AM