Wear more cloth masks, Dr Whylie urges public

Senior medical officer (SMO) of the Kingston Public Hospital, Dr Natalie Whylie, is appealing to ordinary Jamaicans to opt for cloth masks instead of surgical and medical grade N95 mask respirators which she says are not unlimited in supply and should be left for health care workers who need them more.

“I see a lot of persons wearing surgical masks, persons on the streets, and the Government of Jamaica is committed to providing adequate levels and numbers of personal protective equipment but we have to realise that the First World countries where these are manufactured are struggling in terms of supply so I would appeal to Jamaicans that if you don’t need to wear a surgical mask, that you wear a cloth mask so that those surgical masks can be allocated to the health care worker who need it more,” Dr Whylie said in an interview with the Jamaica Observer.

Asked whether this appeal was not better made to persons dispensing or selling the masks to Jamaicans, Dr Whylie said “what some governments have done is to mandate, but the Jamaican Government has not taken that approach because we are a democratic society so you can only appeal.

“I have seen persons on the streets with medical grade N95 mask respirators and that poses a personal challenge to me because there is not an unlimited supply internationally. I know there is a lot of panic in the society but persons have to be informed,” the SMO said in urging citizens to rely on credible information sources such as the Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization in making their decisions.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not recommend that the general public wear N95 respirators to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including coronavirus (COVID-19). According to the CDC, those are critical supplies that must continue to be reserved for health care workers and other medical first responders. The CDC instead recommends that members of the public use simple cloth face coverings when in a public setting to slow the spread of the virus, since this will help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others. It further recommends everyday preventive actions, such as hand washing and maintaining at least six feet of social distancing, to help prevent the spread of respiratory diseases.

It further points out that most N95 respirators are manufactured for use in construction and other industrial type jobs that expose workers to dust and small particles. However, some N95 respirators are intended for use in a health care setting. Specifically, single-use, disposable respiratory protective devices used and worn by health care personnel during procedures to protect both the patient and health care personnel from the transfer of microorganisms, body fluids, and particulate material.

In the meantime ,Dr Whylie said already over 1,200 front line workers from the South East Regional Health Authority (SERHA) have been fit-tested for specialised masks for treating COVID-19 positive patients. The sensitisation trainings were conducted last month.

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