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Mask or Unmask by Dr. John Lopes

Masking has become a very controversial and political issue. To mask or not to mask is a purely scientific subject and should be handled on its scientific merit and not be considered on aesthetic, emotional or convenience basis. Just like a wrap or cast on a sprained ankle is inconvenient to wear but is essential for correcting the pain, masking may be necessary to correct the current situation.

When dealing with harmful chemical particles or infectious agents, it is a practice in medicine as well as in industry to avoid harmful particles that can enter the respiratory system.  We live in a complex world full of harmful particles in the air we breathe. We might be allergic to pollens, or harmfully exposed to asbestos particles. Simply walking in polluted environments, we are continuously exposed to dangers. In short, we need to be protected from carcinogenic particles, allergens and other unknown asthmatic chemical agents.

While masking is not a fool proof protection, masks recommended to be used for public are made up of material that allow only very small particles to go through. For special use there are masks that can filter chemicals and tiny virus particles. There are masks that can prevent poisonous gases or radioactive materials. These masks are prepared for special professional individuals who continuously handle dangerous chemical and biological materials. Besides these are expensive materials for everyday use.

WHY do we need to wear mask every day?

Then why would we need daily use masks? Although a mask cannot stop all incoming particles, it can reduce the number of virus particles that can pass through. Without a mask you could breathe 100 particles, when masked you can limit the incoming number of particles. There is a threshold number for certain infective agents to initiate infection. A mask can reduce the threshold number and can protect from the infective agent.

If everyone uses a mask, they reduce the number of infectious agents passing from person to person. Masking is also our good neighborly responsibility. In a mixed population there will be a number of immunocompromised individuals, or more susceptible individuals like children or older members.

When we go to the hospital to greet our newly arrived child or grandchild we are asked to use a mask and we have no qualms about using it. Let us be good Samaritans even if we are not related and help someone who may be immunocompromised or asthmatic or allergic or undergoing cancer chemotherapy. Thus, in doing good we help ourselves and our neighbors as well as our country from increasing the COVID-19 statistic.

Why mask vaccinated individuals

Why can vaccinated and masked people be positive to Coronavirus? Coronavirus can grow like a “weed”. Certain viruses need certain types of specialized cells to grow and multiply. Coronavirus can grow and multiply on most mucosal surface cells. Corona virus attaches to ACE-2 receptor molecule on cells.  Since almost all mucosal surface cells have ACE-2 receptors, Coronavirus can attach and multiply on all exposed mucosal cells like those found in our oral and nasal cavities.

If a person has received two vaccine doses, he might have a high level of antibodies that can prevent infection if the virus come in contact with serum or in the blood stream. However, these protective antibodies may not be present on oral or nasal mucosal surface cells. So, the virus has no inhibiting environment in oral and basal mucosal cavity. Thus, a vaccinated person can have a live virus in oral and nasal mucosa. Studies in Cornell university and other institutions has reported that the virus can grow in parotid and salivary glands in oral cavity. Thus, a person can carry the virus and is capable of infecting other susceptible individuals. Masking can help reduce the risk of spreading the virus.