Coronavirus Prevention: How to prevent the spread of COVID-19

How can we avoid this double whammy of economic slowdown and steadily rising coronavirus infections?

A mask is produced on Israel's first production line for N95 masks (photo credit: DEFENSE MINISTRY)
A mask is produced on Israel's first production line for N95 masks
(photo credit: DEFENSE MINISTRY)
Just a few weeks ago, the coronavirus pandemic seemed to be on the wane in Israel. There were talks of restaurants, bars, and nightclubs re-opening, in-person university classes resuming, and even flights to select Mediterranean countries opening in July. Israel was averaging just a few cases per day, and it looked like we had successfully flattened the curve.
Recent developments in Israel, including the return of younger students to schools, reopening of public gathering places including beaches, parks and synagogues, and a relaxation on mass protests, have likely spurred the recent spike in coronavirus cases, with cases wavering around 200 per day for the past week.
Pyramid of Coronavirus Prevention Pyramid of Coronavirus Prevention
Prior to this spike, some epidemiologists had suggested that Israel’s reopening might have been premature, and that we needed to reopen the economy at a slower pace. Their logic, which we agree with, was that a premature reopening would likely result in additional outbreaks, which could snap back restrictions and ultimately prolong the economic impact of the crisis. Critics of this approach rightly worry about the severe and sustained economic impact on small, family-owned businesses. However, they miss the bigger picture: without a healthy, relatively virus-free public, we cannot have a healthy economy. If we open for business too soon, we could end up with both ills: new outbreaks and more economic hardship as we enter a cycle of reopening and re-establishing restrictions.
How can we avoid this double whammy of economic slowdown and steadily rising coronavirus infections? Even with an abundance of masks, hand-sanitizer and government restrictions, most Israelis have reduced their usage of facemasks in public, despite evidence from a number of recent studies that facemasks can reduce transmission from infected individuals by up to 85%.
Data from countries that adopted an aggressive, government-sanctioned mask-wearing policy early on, such as Slovakia and South Korea, show that they have been rewarded with lower caseloads and a faster exit from mass quarantines. This is real-world evidence that the concept of ‘you protect me, I protect you’ can be successful. Even though facemasks cannot protect against the smallest aerosol particles, this system works because masks stop most droplets, which carry far more viral particles than aerosols. Most importantly, research shows that when an infected person is wearing a facemask, the rate at which they expel infectious particles into their surroundings is vastly diminished. Returning to regular mask-wearing habits, especially on public transit, in crowded spaces such as restaurants, shopping centres, shuks, and in hospitals, or around the elderly and immunocompromised, is essential to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
When wearing a facemask, it is important to remember to wear the mask with a tight seal around the bridge of your nose, in addition to frequent handwashing, hand-sanitizing and social distancing whenever possible. If you are an individual at high-risk for contracting COVID-19, it might even be beneficial to wear masks in the presence of people who live with you, if they have been in contact with other people from outside your immediate social circle.
However, wearing a facemask does not mean we have additional leeway in other areas. Facemasks are meant to be used in conjunction with, not instead of, other infection prevention techniques, such as social distancing and frequent handwashing and temperature checks, which will become the norm until a vaccine is found. In the coming months, we will have to adapt many of our behaviours to avoid further outbreaks, particularly as future resurgences of COVID-19 may come in the form of hundreds of localized outbreaks, each with the potential to become a widespread epidemic if not contained. Masks and face-shields, while very visible, are meant to be the last line of defense against infection; long-term changes in our behaviour as a global society will make the biggest impact in curbing new infections.