Why face masks and staying at home could make a comeback for the winter

We’ve gotten used to public health precautions during the height of the coronavirus pandemic – but many of us have long since abandoned them.

Now adults in the UK are being warned by a leading health expert to stay home or wear a face mask again if they feel unwell.

Professor Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser to the UK’s Health Security Agency (UKHSA), encourages these measures, adding that adults should not “visit vulnerable people unless it is urgent when they feel unwell”.

Professor Hopkins said precautions were “important to minimize the spread of infection in schools and other educational and childcare settings” as a range of seasonal illnesses emerged.

Parents of children showing signs of the disease are also advised not to let their children go to school or nursery at home to prevent the spread of the disease.

Matthew Taylor, head of the NHS Confederation, told Sky News on Tuesday that most NHS leaders said it was “the hardest winter they’ve ever faced”.

Flu and Covid-19 are “circulating at a high level” and the number of cases is likely to increase in the coming weeks, according to the UKHSA.

More than 1.4 million people in the UK – around one in 45 – caught Covid in the week ending December 9, according to the latest official figures. There are hospital admissions for the flu at their highest levels from winter 2017-2018. Scarlet fever cases also rose in December as Strep A cases rose.

“High numbers of scarlet fever, which is caused by group A streptococcus, are also still being reported,” said Prof. Hopkins in his UKHSA update.

The number of children unable to attend school due to illness rose to 7.5% in the week beginning December 5 – up from 6.1% the previous week and 2.6% at the start of the fall term.

These latest public health guidance is part of the UKHSA’s “simple steps” to ensure children and vulnerable people return safely to schools and universities after Christmas.

A senior NHS chief shared concerns on Monday that the NHS is under “unbearable strain” with mounting pressure on the government to intervene, despite the Number 10 insisting the NHS has the funding it needs to meet the challenge.

Who should wear masks?

Many people have stopped wearing masks – so it’s worth wearing yours if others don’t? The short answer is yes, because it reduces the risk of Covid transmission in both directions while cases are still high.

Professor Trisha Greenhalgh, from the University of Oxford, previously told HuffPost that wearing a well-fitting mask indoors “definitely protects other people from your own germs” – with studies showing it reduces viral emissions when coughing and sneezing by around 20-fold.

According to prof. Hopkins, the standard advice of “catching coughs and sneezes in tissues and then throwing them in the bin” is also another way to prevent disease. She also urged children to observe hygiene rules and get flu vaccinations.

We all know the benefits of wearing face masks in the context of the coronavirus. As early as July 2020, a study by Oxford University’s Leverhulme Center for Demographic Sciences found that face masks and visors were effective in reducing the spread of Covid-19 for both the wearer and those around them.

As Professor Paul Hunter, an infectious disease expert at the University of East Anglia, previously explained to HuffPost UK: “Wearing a mask reduces the risk of transmitting Covid both when the wearer is not infected and in the environment with other infected people. and if they themselves are infected and can spread the infection to others.”

“I’d say if you’re a sensitive person and you’re walking into a crowded room, it’s wise to wear [if] Covid is common in the community, at least while infection rates are high,” he said.

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