Masks with valves ‘won’t properly protect others’

Paul Hayes

27/07/2020 12:14:12 PM

Victoria’s Chief Health Officer has issued clear advice that masks with valves will not help to limit the spread of coronavirus.

Professor Brett Sutton
Brett Sutton wants people to understand that masks with valves should not be worn during the pandemic because the wearer can still breathe out the virus. (Image: AAP)

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has been reassured by the sight of people throughout Melbourne following the rules and wearing masks in an effort to stop the spread of coronavirus.
‘It is heartening to see so many people listening to those messages, changing their normal habits and embedding mask and face-covering-wearing as part of just the normal daily routine,’ he said last week.
‘A small thing, but … it makes a significant contribution.’
Not all masks, however, are equally effective and the state’s Chief Health Officer wants people to understand that masks with valves should not be worn during the COVID-19 pandemic because the wearer can still breathe out the virus.
‘It allows the wearer to breathe out more easily and stops moisture build-up, but the problem is that it allows you to breathe out virus if you’re infected,’ Professor Brett Sutton said in a tweet on the weekend.
‘So although it might protect you, it won’t properly protect others if you are infected. So please, no valves on masks for COVID-19.’

This advice is particularly relevant in light of the fact many people in Australia reportedly purchased masks with valves amid the summer bushfires and may be inclined to use those during the current pandemic.

Some GPs have also reported patients requesting medical exemptions from wearing a mask. The Victorian Department of Health and Humans Services (DHHS) has issued updates regarding lawful exemptions.

A face covering is not required in the following circumstances:  
  • Infants and children under the age of 12 years 
  • A person who is affected by a relevant medical condition – including problems with their breathing, a serious skin condition on the face, a disability or a mental health condition. This also includes persons who are communicating with a person who is hearing impaired, where the ability to see the mouth is essential for communication.
  • Persons for whom wearing a face covering would create a risk to that person’s health and safety related to their work, as determined through OH&S guidelines.
  • Persons whose professions require clear enunciation or visibility of their mouth. This includes teaching or live broadcasting.  
Premier Andrews has also called out people who refuse to wear a mask, branding them ‘selfish’ in light of the rising number of COVID-related deaths in Victoria.
‘If you are just making a selfish choice that your alleged personal liberty, quoting something you’ve read on some website – this is not about human rights,’ he said.
‘There are 10 families that are going to be burying someone in the next few days. Wear a mask.’
According to Ben Mullins, an Associate Professor at Curtin University’s School of Public Health, while most government departments are suggesting that any mask is better than nothing, patients should understand that masks with exhalation valves should be avoided if possible.
‘The valve will stop some big droplets, while some big droplets will collect on the inside surface of the filter before they go through the valve, but it’s not ideal,’ he told the ABC.
‘A surgical mask will limit droplet emissions more than a mask with an exhalation valve does.’
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Dr Umberto Boffa   28/07/2020 10:21:25 AM

I suspect values in masks really is a small concern, compared to allowing thousands of joggers and cyclists who huff and puff through our streets and gardens a complete exemption. Surely, if they have to jog, couldn't they be made to wear a face shield?
Dr Bert Boffa

Perplexed   28/07/2020 5:30:08 PM

Even without a valve there will still be air movement through the material of the mask with and unless the material is rated to filter out submicronbparticles , there will be potential transmission. The benefit of masks seems to lie with limiting high velocity transmission ie coughs and sneezes. A mask with a valve would still do this.

A.Prof Christopher David Hogan   28/07/2020 11:18:54 PM

It is a principle of disaster management that you do not try to save everyone (for that is impossible) but to save as many as you can.
It would be ideal for everyone to wear full PPE (as in a CBR suit) but that is impossible
All the rules, regulation & advice are a compromise- between the optimal & the practical.
The relevant pandemic laws from ?1903 were very precise. Under a state of emergency the Chief Health Officer had almost unlimited powers, far more than any politician ever had- for the duration. Those powers were altered during the AIDS crisis.
The CHO is not allowed to imprison citizens- they must be allowed to exercise out of the house- but confinement is OK.
If they run for exercise, they cannot wear a mask => no mask.
So don't blame the CHOs regulations, blame the pre-existing law.
Should we review those powers when the state of emergency is over & parliament review is possible?
A mask has 2 uses to protect the uninfected & reduce infection from the infected