Virologist: Even those immune to COVID-19 must wear masks

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Officers checking for and distributing masks in Tallinn's Town Hall Square (Raekoja plats). Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

University of Tartu virologist Andres Merits said that the 19,000 people who are vaccinated and the nearly 38,000, who are known to have carried the coronavirus at some point, must still wear masks when moving around in public places.

Merits said protection from infection and falling ill is not necessarily one and the same. "Currently, we know that people, who are vaccinated or have lived through the virus, do not fall ill for a period or do not at all. Especially among those vaccinated and those who have recovered, we do not know if they are infectious or if they can transmit the virus. That is a hole in our knowledge," he explained.

The virologist added that vaccines will only be distributed to doctors and the elderly going forward. For the health care workers, they are more likely to be in contact with the coronavirus than regular people and can also infect their other patients. The weaker health of elderly people could also mean that the vaccine is less effective.

According to Merits, solidarity is also important: "The situation will become very complicated if a third of people wear masks, a third do not wear one because they do not want to and the third third because they do not have to. We cannot leave any reasonable measure unused. We are not in a situation where we could allow ourselves that."

It is also important to note that every face mask does not stop the spread of COVID-19. When buying cloth masks, the buyer should ensure the mask can withstand repeat washing and 60-degree heat.

Kerstin-Gertrud Kärblane, chief specialist of the Infectious Diseases Surveillance and Epidemic Control departments of the Health Board, recommended buyers get acquainted with the mask certificate designations on the Health Board's webpage (link in Estonian, but also available in English without certificate explanations).

"We recommend cloth masks for those who are healthier and are not in any risk groups, who are also not caring for or treating a COVID-19 patient," Kärblane said.

"For self-made masks, material is very important. It should be made of a tight-knit material and according to the World Health Organization, it should also be double or triple-layered. A medical or surgical mask should be preferred by those infected with COVID-19, the people dealing with treatment, the people who have symptoms or people in risk groups," the Health Board specialist added.

Kärblane said that while masks are not here to stay, it is much too early to think about giving them up.

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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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