One of Australia’s top doctors has called out an error in a seemingly ordinary photo of Daniel Andrews as the Victorian Premier announced N95 masks will be handed out to the public for free.
Mr Andrews was seen proudly posing in one of the surgical masks alongside Chris Turner, the deputy CEO of Cohealth, a community healthcare service funded by the Victorian government.
The service has been tasked with helping distribute the masks to vulnerable Australians as part of the plan announced on Tuesday.
However, former deputy chief health officer Dr Nick Coatsworth was quick to share his critique of Mr Turner’s mask technique.
‘A couple of questions: does the gent on the right [Mr Turner] know that wearing an N95 with a beard means it is no longer an N95?,’ he asked.
‘And, what is the fit test pass rate for the N95’s being offered free to the public?’
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews was seen posing in one of the surgical masks alongside Deputy CEO of Cohealth Chris Turner (right) on Tuesday
Dr Nick Coatsworth was quick to point out a mistake with Mr Turner’s mask wearing technique
Dr Coatsworth asked if Mr Turner knew that wearing an N95 with a beard ‘means it is no longer an N95 mask’ and therefore can’t provide optimal protection against germs
Beards and facial hair can cause an impaired seal on N95 masks, which in turn can put its wearer and others at an increased risk of transmission, according to the NSW Covid-19 Critical Intelligence Unit.
‘In all seriousness, if you are in a vulnerable group and avail yourself of these masks, please check out how to do a proper fit check,’ Dr Coatsworth explained.
When worn correctly, the masks work to filter out very fine particles from the air and help to block germs from reaching the wearer’s mouth and nose.
Optimal use of the masks depends on a tight seal with the wearer’s skin to provide the best protection, NSW Health says.
The Covid-19 pandemic has seen large numbers of health workers ditch their beards for a clean shave to receive the best protection from N95 surgical masks (pictured, Mr Andrews and Mr Turner arrive at a press conference on Tuesday)
‘A couple of questions: does the gent on the right know that wearing an N95 with a beard means it is no longer an N95?,’ Dr Coatsworth (pictured in 2020) asked on Twitter
While there is no direct evidence there is an increased risk of transmission for those with facial hair, large numbers of health workers have ditched their beards and opted for a clean shave during the Covid-19 pandemic.
‘A study comparing the fitted filtration efficiency of five commonly worn masks found N95 respirators offer the best respiratory protection for bearded men,’ a report from the NSW Critical Intelligence Unit states.
‘While KF94 and KN95 fitted filtration efficiency was compromised by increasing beard length, they were better options than procedure and cotton face masks.’
It’s not the first time Dr Coatsworth has been critical of the Victorian government’s response to the pandemic.
‘What I’d say there is there is clearly one state in the country that seems to hold onto their restrictions longer than others and that’s Victoria and I don’t agree with it,’ he told Daily Mail Australia in April.
‘Ultimately it’s going to come down to the people in Victoria as to whether it’s the right thing to do or not. I guess they’ll make that decision at the next election.’
As part of the initiative in Victoria, more than three million masks will be handed out through state-run testing sites, community health services such as Cohealth, and the public transport network to protect those most vulnerable to the virus amid an uptick in cases.
Over the next four to six weeks every Victorian that presents for either a free rapid antigen or PCR test will receive one box of 10 N95 masks with instructions on how to best wear them to reduce transmission.
Evidence suggests that beards can cause an impaired seal on COVID-19 masks, including N95s
Mr Andrews defended the timing of the announcement given that the state is starting to see a drop in Covid cases, saying authorities have been handing out masks for a long time.
‘This is just about a push to the end of this wave,’ he told reporters.
Victoria recorded another 6,380 new cases and 44 deaths on Tuesday, the highest daily toll in almost a fortnight.
But its daily Covid case and hospitalisation numbers have been slowly declining in recent weeks after peaking at 14,293 and 906 respectively.
When worn properly, N95 masks work to filter out very fine particles from the air and help to block germs from reaching the wearer’s mouth and nose
The seven-day average for hospital cases has fallen to 678, easing pressure on the state’s ailing health system.
‘It’s pretty clear now that we’ve passed the peak of this wave and we want to do everything we can to drive those numbers down,’ Mr Andrews said.
Face-coverings remain mandatory in high-risk settings including hospitals, aged care and on public transport and strongly recommended in indoor settings.
Last month, the premier ruled out the return of compulsory face masks despite an uptick in new infections and Covid-19 hospitalisations.
The Victorian government is yet to make face masks compulsory in all indoor settings like shopping malls, leaving the decision to personal choice.
The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners Victoria chair Anita Munoz says there are practical steps everyone can take.
‘On top of getting vaccinated and boosted, I urge everyone to wear a mask indoors and where social distancing is difficult, such as at a sports games,’ Dr Munoz said in a statement.
Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said the free masks are a good reason to get tested, with authorities estimating only 45 per cent of total infections are presently being diagnosed and recorded.
‘Remember, knowing you test positive to Covid (on RATs or PCR) is the only way to be on a care pathway and to access oral treatments if you’re eligible,’ he tweeted.
Mr Sutton last week flagged the indoor mask recommendation could remain in place for ‘years’ unless a vaccine is created that works on all future variants.
FACIAL HAIR, MASKS AND COVID-19 TRANSMISSION: HOW BEARDS CAN CAUSE AN IMPAIRED SEAL
Facial hair and respirator fit
• Evidence suggests that beards can cause an impaired seal, reduced fit factors and detrimental impacts on respirator performance. Studies have shown that adequate respirator fit decreases significantly with increasing facial hear, and is associated with worsening protection.
• A study comparting the fitted filtration efficiency of five commonly worn masks found N95 respirators offer the best respiratory protection for bearded men. While KF94 and KN95 fitted filtration efficiency was compromised by increasing beard length, they were better options than procedure and cotton face masks.
Measures for protection
• Removal of facial hair for reasons other than religious or cultural has been advised to help with the seal of the FFP3/FFP2 masks.
• It has been suggested that an adequate seal can be achieved by using a thin cloth tied over a beard, however currently the efficacy of this method has not been proven.
• In one study, a simple resistance exercise band improved fitted filtration efficiency for face masks commonly used (N95, KF94, KN95 and procedure mask) by bearded men during the COVID-19 pandemic.
• A technique known as the ‘Singh Thattha’ technique is where the under-mask beard cover is applied to cover the beard over the chin and cheeks and tie the knot at the top of the head. It has been adopted and tested by bearded British Sikh dentists and when tested, 25 of 27 passed the qualitative fit test, and 5 of 5 passed the quantitative fit test.
As evidence shows beards can cause an impaired seal, it has been suggested that this may put people at an increased risk of COVID-19 transmission. However to date, there is no direct evidence of increase transmission for people with facial hair.
Source – NSW HEALTH