Why Face Masks And Staying Home Could Be Back For Winter

Health experts are urging some familiar public health precautions as seasonal illnesses spread.
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We got used to public health precautions during the height of the coronavirus pandemic – but many of us have long since ditched them.

Now, UK adults are being warned by a leading health expert to stay at home or wear a face mask again if they are feeling poorly.

Professor Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser at the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), has encouraged these measures, adding that adults should not “visit vulnerable people unless urgent when feeling unwell”.

Prof Hopkins said the precautions were “important to minimise the spread of infection in schools and other education and childcare settings” as a range of seasonal illnesses do the rounds.

Parents of children who are showing signs of illness are also advised to keep their kids home from school or nursery to prevent illness from spreading.

Matthew Taylor, head of the NHS Confederation, told Sky News on Tuesday that most NHS leaders are saying “this is the toughest winter they’ve ever dealt with.”

Flu and Covid-19 are “circulating at high levels” and cases are most 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 most recent official data. Hospital admissions for flu are at their highest levels since the winter 2017-2018. Scarlet fever cases also increased during December with the spike in Strep A.

“High numbers of scarlet fever, which is caused by group A streptococcus, also continue to be reported,” Prof Hopkins said in her UKHSA update.

The number of children who weren’t able to attend school due to illness increased to 7.5% in the week commencing December 5 – rising from 6.1% the previous week and 2.6% at the start of the autum term.

This latest public health guidance is part of the UKHSA’s “simple steps” to ensure children and vulnerable individuals are safe to return to schools and universities after the Christmas holidays.

A senior NHS boss shared concerns on Monday that the NHS is under “unbearable strain” with rising pressure on the government to intervene, despite No.10 insisting the NHS has the funding it needs to meet the challenge.

Who should be wearing face masks?

Lots of people have stopped wearing masks – so it is worth wearing yours if other people aren’t? The short answer is yes, because it reduces the risk of Covid transmission in both directions, at a time when cases are still high.

Professor Trisha Greenhalgh of the University of Oxford previously told HuffPost that wearing a well-fitting mask indoors “definitely protects other people from one’s own germs” – with studies highlighting that it reduces viral emissions from coughing and sneezing about 20-fold.

According to Prof Hopkins, the standard advice of “catching coughs and sneezes in tissues then binning them,” is also another way to prevent illness, She also urged children to practice good hygiene and to get a flu vaccination.

And we all know the benefits of wearing face masks in terms of coronavirus. As early as July 2020, a study from the University of Oxford’s Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science found that face masks and coverings, were effective in reducing the spread of Covid-19 for the wearer as well as those around them.

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

“What I would say is that if you are in a vulnerable group and are going into a crowded indoor environment then it is sensible to still wear one [if] Covid is common in the community, at least whilst infection rates are high,” he said.