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NCDC, experts differ on ending face masks, temperature checks

By Chukwuma Muanya
18 September 2020   |   3:40 am
There seems no end yet for temperature checks and use of face masks as experts, yesterday, expressed diverse positions on when Nigerians should do away with the shield and the checks.

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There seems no end yet for temperature checks and use of face masks as experts, yesterday, expressed diverse positions on when Nigerians should do away with the shield and the checks.

These, among other measures, were introduced to prevent citizens from contracting or spreading the Coronavirus (COVID-19) disease. But it is noticeable across the country that many citizens have abandoned the use of masks and doing temperature checks.

While the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) says Nigerians should continue with face masks until an effective vaccine is found, some medical experts say there is no conclusion yet on the matter because the biology and epidemiology of COVID-19 are not well understood at the moment.

Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) says Nigerians should continue with face masks until an effective vaccine is found. Photo: TWITTER/NCDCGOV

A virologist and Chairman, Expert Review Committee on COVID-19, Prof. Oyewale Tomori, told The Guardian that the measures should not be ended “until a country is declared free of the disease, like polio-free status, or maybe no case reported for a period of time, like two times the maximum incubation period in the face of reliable surveillance, adequate laboratory testing and efficient contact tracing.”

He wondered when the time would come.

Similarly, the President, Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) and former Director-General of the Nigerian Institute for Medical Research (NIMR), Yaba, Prof. Innocent Ujah, painted a picture of a long time waiting for the end of the virus. He said, “It is too early to know when to stop wearing face masks or stop temperature checks. Nobody at the moment could be very categorical about the two issues raised. The biology and epidemiology of COVID-19 is not well understood at the moment.”

While the Chief Medical Director (CMD) of Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Idi Araba, and Consultant Paediatric Surgeon, Prof. Bode Chris, told The Guardian the virus could only be said to have ended “when COVID-19 is officially declared over by the government, based on scientific evidence of such,” the Director-General and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of NIMR, Prof. Babatunde Salako, said the end would not be certified “until we are sure the epidemic curve has flattened and cases have gone down to single-digit per day.”

A vaccinologist, former researcher at the National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD) and founder/CEO of Innovative Biotech, Keffi, Nasarawa State, Dr. Simon Agwale, told The Guardian: “I think we can only stop wearing masks or using temperature checks when we find an effective vaccine. Without this, it will be risky to stop wearing masks.”

MEANWHILE, the NCDC has advised Nigerians to wear face masks every day until a vaccine is found for COVID-19.

The Director-General of the NCDC, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, told The Guardian that with the non-availability of a vaccine that could prevent COVID-19, citizens must depend on non-pharmaceutical measures such as use of face masks, handwashing, social distancing and management of confirmed cases to mitigate the impact of the disease.

“Studies have shown that the correct use of face masks is critical to reducing the risk of COVID-19 infection. We encourage people and businesses around the world to rally behind the importance of wearing a mask properly every day until a vaccine that prevents infection is readily accessible to all citizens,” he said.

Ihekweazu, who is also an epidemiologist, emphasised that the use of masks is a key component of Infection, Prevention and Control (IPC) procedures in medical and non-medical settings.

He stressed that given the widespread community transmission of COVID-19 in Nigeria, strict adherence to using of masks in public spaces, particularly where physical distancing might not be practical, could slow the spread of the virus.

“The appropriate use of a face mask is one of the comprehensive non-pharmaceutical preventive and control measures adopted to limit the spread of COVID-19 by preventing respiratory droplet transmission. Masks can also be used by healthy persons to reduce exposure,” he said.

Ihekweazu said the NCDC, in its effort to strengthen IPC in health facilities, had continued to prioritise training of health workers and supply of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), including face masks, to state facilities.

“As Nigeria’s public health institute, we will continue to provide periodic advisories on face mask usage, including making and care of reusable cloth masks,” he said.

Ihekweazu added: “Firstly, there is scientific evidence that wearing face masks reduces the risk of spread of COVID-19. Also, the early detection of high temperature can help to reduce contacts between those that are healthy and others who may have been infected.

“It is very important we do not stop these public health and safety measures. Even when a vaccine is made available for population-use, it is not a magic bullet. We may still be required to adhere to certain measures to protect ourselves in addition to the vaccine, in certain circumstances.

“For now, there is a risk of further spread of COVID-19 if people do not adhere to public health and safety measures such as wearing a face mask in public settings, hand-washing, physical distancing and others.”

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), medical face masks should be worn primarily by people who show symptoms of COVID-19, health workers and people who are taking care of people with COVID-19 in closed settings (at home or in a healthcare facility).

As arguments and different opinions persist on the right time to stop the use of face masks and temperature checks, it has been observed that many citizens are fast leaving their faces unshielded, perhaps because of the costs of changing the masks regularly.

Citizens buy face shields from hawkers at costs not factored by those who insist they must wear them.

Even some organisations have stopped giving masks to their workers, exposing them to the risk of contracting the deadly virus.