PERH doctor: Only sick people should wear face masks in public

PERH doctor Mait Altmets on
PERH doctor Mait Altmets on "Aktuaalne kaamera." March 2, 2020. Source: ERR

In an appearance on ETV news broadcast "Aktuaalne kaamera" on Monday night, Mait Altmets, director of Infection Control at North Estonia Medical Center (PERH), said that it is those with symptoms who should be wearing face masks in order to prevent the possible spread of a virus to others. Those who are well, he added, have nothing to gain from going around in a face mask.

AK anchor Astrid Kannel: I understand that people in Estonia have begun buying up masks and all kinds of cleaning products. Is there any point to wearing a face mask?

Mait Altmets: There is a point if you are experiencing symptoms. It isn't the most reasonable thing to just walk around wearing a mask. People often don't know how to use the mask — they pull it under their chin and wear it under their nose, at which point it is entirely pointless, and we're wasting this valuable mask that otherwise might be needed somewhere else later.

AK: Who should really be wearing a face mask, someone who is sick or someone afraid of being infected?

MA: It should be worn by someone experiencing symptoms, regardless of whether it is coronavirus, the flu or whatever other virus. If you are experiencing symptoms — cough, cold — then you should wear a mask to protect those around you if you need to go out somewhere.

AK: How much should one really be washing their hands?

MA: When coming here, I asked my children what the best means of preventing coronavirus is. They said coughing into your sleeve and washing your hands. You should wash your hands when they have been contaminated by respiratory fluids, for example, such as after coughing into your hands. And it really is better to cough into your sleeve if you don't have tissues handy and can't wash your hands right away.

AK: How much can one irritate the skin on their hands with constant hand-washing and cleaning with various products?

MA: People in hospitals use them every day, and 20-30 times per day, and we are completely capable of working. If using them more often, then special alcohol-based antiseptics have hand care products built in, and they are friendlier than soap and water, which dry skin out.

AK: How should one be regarding and reacting to all of this in general right now?

MA: You should live as you do during other viral seasons. If you are experiencing symptoms, stay home, don't spread it and keep a distance socially. If you need to communicate, do so by phone. And consider avoiding visits. And you should only visit loved ones in the hospital if you are well.

AK: Have you yourself also changed any of your behaviors in this panic caused by the coronavirus?

MA: I have not.


Commonly referred to as the novel coronavirus, coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is caused by the virus severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). COVID-19 was first identified in Wuhan, the capital of China's Hubei Province, in late 2019. Worldwide, nearly 90,000 cases of coronavirus disease have since been confirmed, with more than 3,000 deaths attributed to the disease to date.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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