Two and a half years after the start of Social, Preventive and Compulsory Isolation, the Ministry of Health led by Carla Vizzotti announced that the use of the chinstrap was no longer mandatory. A true symbol of the pandemic that contributed to preventing infections and reducing the spread of a virus such as Sars CoV-2, which, fortunately, no longer exhibits the circulation of previous times. The vaccination campaign carried out in Argentina (with 83 percent of the population immunized with a complete schedule) was crucial. However, there is no need to sing victory and forget about this element of protection forever: its use is still recommended in interior spaces, such as work, educational, social and public transport environments.
In the resolution that was published in the Official Gazette this Wednesday morning, it is established that each jurisdiction will adopt “the recommendations based on its particular epidemiological situation and the planned health strategy”. Indeed, each province may provide for its use according to the context it faces.
From this perspective, Humberto Debate, virologist and researcher at INTA in Córdoba, comments: “The measure must be put into context. The epidemiological bulletin reports a 30 percent reduction in cases compared to the previous week. We are in one of the most favorable contexts, the levels of immunity (from infections and vaccines) are very high. Then he continues: “The low incidence and low viral circulation, added to the time of year, are indicators that support the decision made by the Ministry. If that step had to be taken at any time, it was now.”. In Córdoba, for example, this decision had already been resolved on August 31 and, at least in the last three weeks, the measure did not cause an increase in infections.
Vizzotti’s portfolio, however, suggests continuing to apply the lessons left by the pandemic: Ventilation of spaces, hand hygiene and isolation against symptoms can serve to prevent the circulation of Sars CoV-2as well as other respiratory viruses. “In closed, poorly ventilated places with many people, there is a greater need to use the mask. Individuals whose immune system is not working properly should continue to use it.. Older people and those with underlying pathologies constitute other risk groups”, he expresses. Daniela Hozborbiochemist and principal investigator of the Conicet at the Institute of Biotechnology and Molecular Biology of La Plata.
In parallel, on the global stage, from the WHO they affirm that “the end of the pandemic is already in sight” and that the planet could march towards an endemic. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director of the agency, pointed out that “you can see the finish line”, although “if the world does not take advantage of the opportunity now, there is still a risk that more variants of the coronavirus will emerge and that more deaths will occur ” . Joe Biden himself, on the CBS program “60 minutes”, proclaimed that “the pandemic was over”.
A seasonal virus?
Another important fact to take into account in the resolution is that Sars CoV-2 is claimed to have become a seasonal virus. This aspect was discussed for a long time by members of the scientific community without reaching a consensus. In fact, the last peaks in domestic territory were observed in the middle of summer.
“It was always very complex to affirm or not the seasonality of covid, above all, because carrying out studies when different countries execute different policies (such as isolation, or flexibility) that influence viral dynamics. In the last moment, it has been found that there is more infection when there are low temperatures. In short, if there are more situations in which people lock themselves up with little ventilation, the cases are going to tend to rise.” From Hozbor’s point of view, once viral circulation is stabilized, Sars CoV-2 should not be different from other respiratory viruses that spread more under these specific conditions.
Debat does not agree and makes a difference. “Saying that the virus is seasonal is a technical error, a misreading of the literature academic. There is no seasonal viral circulation of this virus at this time, nor has it ever behaved this way. The climatic conditions have little influence, we must pay more attention to the immunity of the groups to venture the waves that may arise, ”he maintains.
In one way or another, what is clear is that, since vaccines serve to prevent serious cases of covid but do not guarantee their elimination, the use of the chinstrap could be required in particular contexts. Thus, in the same way that happens with other garments that are taken out of the closet when a new season is presented; cold times, in the long term, will push people to use scarves, hats, gloves… and also masks.
Background and future
Since the beginning of 2020, the mask had functioned as a symbol of the pandemic. Although at first the World Health Organization announced that only health personnel directly involved in combating the disease should wear it, it was later found that it was essential that the entire society be able to protect itself.
Thus, tutorials were disseminated so that, given the shortage, the population could design homemade masks. Nevertheless, science warned that not all specimens had the same efficiency and that it was convenient to use those that adequately filter the air. To the KN95 (five layers, they achieve an efficiency that ranges from 80 to 95 percent) and to the surgical ones (three layers, with an efficiency of 60 to 80 percent) were added “the Conicet chinstraps”, designed by the Kovi company , in collaboration with researchers from the Council, the University of Buenos Aires and the National University of San Martín.
A fundamental aspect was also insisted on: the chinstraps had to “fit well”, that is, fit properly to the chin, in order to cover the mouth and nose. In the face of an airborne respiratory virus, exposing some of these parts did not make much sense.
In this line, although at first it was an element that was only used by the medical community and those groups of immunocompromised people, with covid, its use was revealed to be crucial. “Since the pandemic, there has been a significant increase in the evidence pointing to Recognize the effectiveness of the mask to prevent infection. There are studies carried out in various parts of the world that demonstrate the success of this element in preventing disease. We must not abandon them definitively,” says Hozbor.
From a long-term perspective, Debat completes: “The ventilation of the environments must continue, as well as a strong immunization campaign with reinforcements. An advance for the future will be to incorporate covid vaccines into the mandatory national calendar.