Wearing masks in public spaces should be mandatory in Ida-Viru County, which is seeing a surge of coronavirus cases, the chief physician at the North Estonian Medical Center (PERH) has said. However, the head of the Estonian Medical Association does not agree.
Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center) wrote on social media on Monday that if Estonia's coronavirus rate continues to grow, the government must consider introducing more extensive restrictions on everyday life. Among other things, he mentioned wearing a protective mask in public transport and public spaces.
PERH's chief physician Professor Peep Talving said masks have been the cornerstone of infection control for a hundred years. There has also been new research between mask wearing and the coronavirus he said, mentioning a study looking at the spread of the virus in China, New York and Italy.
"All the measures came like a package: stay home, keep your distance. But the mask came later. And during these first measures, the infection only increased or remained stable. And from the moment the obligation of wearings masks came in, the trend began to fall," Talving said.
He said in addition to preventing the infection from spreading, the masks, according to a new hypothesis, also reduce the dose of the virus that a person receives.
"I think Ida-Viru County could have a regional obligation to wear a mask," he said but said the real question lies in where a limit should be set to make it mandatory for people to wear masks.
The infection rate in Estonia is currently 31.08 as a two week average per 100,000 but in Ida-Viru County it is more than three times higher at 98.36.
"The question arises as to where to draw this limit. Is it 50 per 100,000 for the last two weeks? It is very difficult to draw this limit. But at the moment I would say there is a regional obligation for masks - yes, and if it expands across Estonia, then national. That would be my recommendation as an expert," said Talving.
However, president of the Estonian Medical Association Jaan Sütt said no fundamental knowledge about the relationship between coronavirus and masks had been found, only hypotheses.
Estonia has never introduced mandatory mask-wearing and experts have been split on their level of effectiveness.
What is the situation in Ida-Viru County?
Cases in Ida-Viru County first started rising after an outbreak in a bar in Jõhvi and Eesti Energia's Estonia mine in mid-August. The two outbreaks were connected as some workers from the mine had visited the bar. The coronavirus then spread to a second mine and now it is spreading in workplaces and schools. A late night alcohol sales ban has been in place for a month.
Ida-Viru's 14 day average is 98.38 per 100,000. Tallinn's is 32.77 per 100,000.
On Monday, the Health Board said there are four active outbreaks in Eastern Estonia: Kohtla-Järve workplace (six cases), Sillamäe workplace (11 cases), so-called acquaintance outbreak (29 cases), Tammiku basic school (11 cases).
The Eastern Regional Department of the Health Board is currently monitoring 690 people, of which 145 have been diagnosed with the novel coronavirus.
There are estimated to be 134 active cases, for comparison, Harju County - which includes Tallinn - has 196 active cases.
In total, 437 cases of COVID-19 have been diagnosed in Ida-Viru County since the coronavirus pandemic started in February. This means the county has the third highest number of cases in Estonia.
The second highest is Saare County which has 560 cases after a severe outbreak in March. It is now rare to get new cases in Saare County, whereas the number of new cases in Ida-Viru is growing every day, making it a possibility the county could end up with the second highest rate in Estonia in several weeks time.
Fifteen new cases were diagnosed in Ida-Viru County in the last day.
To see more data about Ida-Viru and the rest of Estonia visit koroonakaart.
Editor: Helen Wright