BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS, Jamaica Observer
FORMER chief medical officer and current People’s National Party (PNP) candidate for St Catherine East Central Dr Winston De La Haye has categorised as unfortunate, the Ministry of Health and Wellness’s limited stance on the wearing of masks as a form of protection against COVID-19.
Dr De la Haye has been advocating the wholesale wearing of masks over the past week, having changed his previous position based on developments in other countries.
After a cautious acceptance of the wearing masks by the public last Friday, the ministry yesterday issued further guidelines, saying the protective gear will decrease the likelihood of exposure for members of the public when at highest risk to droplets emitted by infected people in crowded situations, when these cannot be avoided.
But according to Dr De La Haye, the Ministry of Health and Wellness has only doubled down on its initial stance.
“If it doesn’t say, ‘mask for all’ they’re unwise. It’s very unfortunate. I really can’t see why they would stick to that. It’s so clear internationally, it’s everywhere, including the CDC,” he said in an interview with the Jamaica Observer yesterday.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention, the leading national public health institute in the United States, has recommended “wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (eg, grocery stores and pharmacies), especially in areas of significant community-based transmission” of the virus.
Yesterday, Dr De La Haye pointed out that the World Health Organization is unlikely to explicitly recommend masks for everyone, but has said it recognises the value in it for some categories of people.
“That ‘some’ may be the whole world, but that’s how they will phrase it. They have been saying those riders, but when you sum it up, that includes everybody. But we are not even saying the rider,” he argued.
Dr De La Haye is of the view that there is some level of resistance to the widescale wearing of masks because the recommendation has come from the Opposition PNP.
“That’s really unfortunate, because I thought like them, too,” he said, pointing out that several eastern European countries have made it mandatory for all citizens to wear masks.
“In fact, in the Czech Republic, if you’re caught without one you pay a fine of US$800 because they are saying that it helps to save lives and reduces the spread. And they’re not saying, ‘Wear masks and do whatever you feel… Still don’t go out if you don’t need to, still wash your hands and keep your distance, but if you must go, wear masks. Leave the surgical ones for doctors, use the regular masks’,” he said.
“It makes a whole lot of sense. Austria followed, and Slovakia followed, and there are other countries I’m aware of that are following,” De La Haye continued.
He said infection rates are lower in countries where masks are worn generally.
“So really, it’s unfortunate that they have doubled down on this. The ministry also said that persons who are asymptomatic don’t need testing and can’t spread it, they were wrong there too. We now know that asymptomatic persons who are positive and don’t know — even with normal talking and breathing, let alone shouting, sneezing and coughing — pass the virus out,” he charged.
The former chief medical officer argued that there is nothing to be gained from resisting the general wearing of masks.
“Any move that makes sense, especially costing little or no money, we must do it. Even if that means standing on your heads, because there is nothing to be lost and a lot to be gained,” Dr De La Haye argued.
Chief Medical Officer Dr Jacquiline Bisasor McKenzie had said at a digital press conference last Friday that many individuals are advocating the routine wearing of masks by the general public.
“Yes, it can be useful. It does offer some protection, especially where there are persons who are coughing and sneezing within your three-to six feet personal space,” she said, adding that wearing a mask continuously is uncomfortable and individuals must avoid touching and adjusting it in order to prevent contamination. She had also mentioned specific groups of people who should wear masks.
In its slight shift yesterday, the ministry also said “persons who do not readily have access to running water, or where living conditions do not allow for physical distancing should wear a mask in addition to observing the necessary infection prevention control measure”.
Among the other recommendations for wearing masks are people who are ill with coughing and sneezing; individuals who are quarantined or isolated at home, with or without respiratory symptoms, and household members who care for that person or are in the same house; people who have had COVID-19 and have been discharged from hospital; and elderly individuals and people with chronic illnesses.