7 Sep 2021

Covid-19: Dr Siouxsie Wiles on mask wearing in alert level 2

8:49 am on 7 September 2021

At midnight Tuesday, all of the country except for Auckland moves significantly closer to normality as alert level 2 comes into force.

School-age children in medical masks. portrait of school children

File photo. Photo: 123RF

'Delta level 2' means face coverings will be required at most public venues.

Indoor hospitality venues will also have a limit of 50 people, and outdoor venues will be restricted to 100 people.

Microbiologist Dr Siouxsie Wiles answered our questions about why the new mask rules are so important in combating the Covid-19 Delta variant.

"The virus is airborne, so it transmits through air and transmits through shared space ... so increasing that space indoors is really just about limiting the number of people inside. At level 2, if a case gets out and into the community, there's a chance for massive spread with Delta."

If I'm out for a walk and there's a group of people passing by should I put my mask on?

"It depends on where the wind is blowing you could have a gust of wind that if someone infected blows it to you or if you were infected blows it to someone else... For the good of everybody, wearing a mask when you're out of your home is a good idea."

If I'm out and I've forgotten my mask ... is holding my breath a good idea?

"It may well help ... but the important thing about masks is that, if you have Covid-19 and don't know, they will help reduce the amount of virus that you're spreading and if you are on the receiving end they will help reduce the amount you're getting. They're for everyone to consider because any one of us could be infectious. At alert level 2 the hope is that nobody is infectious ... but they are a way that if there is an infection in the community it will help to reduce the amount of transmission that happens. Try to think of it not as protecting you from somebody else but protecting others from you as well."

Siouxsie Wiles

Siouxsie Wiles Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

How many times should I use a mask before washing it or throwing it away?

"That's a tricky one. The surgical masks are supposed to be one use only (though there is some research into sterilisation methods) ... for cloth masks it's good to have a wear one wash one type thing so you can alternate them but I do wear mine for a few days without washing it."

If you encountered someone with Covid-19 but you have a mask on, you get home and touch your mask then your face ... can you get it that way?

"All of the transmission we know of so far really has been from breathing virus particles in. You can get other viruses that way so it's certainly not something that I would say is not a risk. It's another really good reason for washing your hands before you touch your face, try to avoid touching your face. Because not only will you prevent potentially Covid-19 but lots of other infections too."

What are the best masks to get?

"Any mask is better than no mask, I think the research is showing surgical masks are better than cloth masks but cloth masks are better than nothing."

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