Just days after announcing more than three million N95 and KN95 face masks will be given out for free, a seemingly innocent photo posted by the Victorian government has raised some eyebrows.
In the image, Premier Daniel Andrews can be seen posing alongside Minister for Health Mary-Anne Thomas, Deputy CEO for cohealth Chris Turner, and a representative from Monash Health.
All four are wearing N95 masks, which cohealth — a nonprofit community health organisation — are helping to distribute.
“Wearing a mask, staying up to date with vaccinations and ensuring indoor areas are well ventilated are all steps we can take to manage Covid-19 risk,” Ms Thomas caption the photo posted to Twitter on Tuesday.
“Pleased to be announcing 3.5 million free N95 and KN95 masks will be distributed across Vic.”
However, former deputy chief health officer Dr Nick Coatsworth was quick to point out a critical flaw in the innocuous image.
“A couple of questions: does the gent on the right know that wearing an N95 with a beard means it is no longer an N95 (this is also important advice for those who sport a healthy stubble),” Dr Coastworth tweeted, referring to Mr Turner.
A couple of questions: does the gent on the right know that wearing an n95 with a beard means it is no longer an n95 (this is also important advice for those who sport a healthy stubble); and, what is the fit test pass rate for the n95s being offered free to the public? https://t.co/zsv9vJFLaG
— Dr. Nick Coatsworth (@nick_coatsworth) August 9, 2022
“And, what is the fit test pass rate for the N95s being offered free to the public?
In “all seriousness”, anyone who is in a vulnerable group and has acquired N95 masks should “check how to do a proper fit”, Dr Coastworth added, linking to a how-to video from the NSW Clinical Excellence Commission.
Facial hair can impair masks 'significantly'
It was reported early on in the Covid pandemic that facial hair can interfere with N95 masks, leaving people open to infection.
NSW’s Covid-19 Critical intelligence Unit has recommended removing facial hair, stating it can impair the seal “significantly”.
“Evidence suggests that beards can cause an impaired seal, reduced fit facts and detrimental impacts on respirator performance,” a brief published in June last year reported.
However, the commission said a study of five commonly-worn masks found that N95 respirators offer the best protection for bearded men.
“While KF94 and KN95 fitted filtration efficiency was compromised by increasing beard length, they were better options than procedure and cotton face masks.”
Free masks a good step, expert says
Earlier this week, infectious disease expert Associate Professor Paul Griffin told Yahoo News Australia Victoria’s decision to distribute masks for free is a good step to helping combat the current Covid wave sweeping the state and Australia.
“I think at the moment, there's a lot of people who aren't necessarily opposed [to wearing a mask], they just forget or don't think about it,” he said, adding that education is also really important.
“So supplying them at some venues will certainly make a difference.”
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