The Dutch government announced this week that it will not be mandating that citizens wear masks to halt the spread of COVID-19, arguing that their effectiveness remains unproven.
Speaking at a press conference at The Hague, the Netherlands’ Minister for Medical Care Tamara van Ark said that a recent review by the country’s National Institute for Health (RIVM) showed that social distancing rules prove more effective at combatting the virus than masks.
“Because from a medical perspective there is no proven effectiveness of masks, the Cabinet has decided that there will be no national obligation for wearing non-medical masks” Van Ark said, as reported by U.S. News and World Report.
Though RIVM chief Jaap van Dissel acknowledged studies indicating that masks may be useful in slowing the spread of COVID-19, he argued that incorrectly worn masks coupled with weak social distancing guidelines could help the virus spread.
“So we think that if you’re going to use masks (in a public setting) … then you must give good training for it,” he said.
Citizens are only required to wear masks in airports and when taking public transportation.
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The decision followed a meeting of health and government officials after new coronavirus cases in the country rose to 1,329 in the past week, an increase of more than a third.
Dutch cases have risen steadily since July 1, when the government announced an easing of lockdown measures to include restaurants and public gatherings if people maintain a 1.5 meter (five foot) physical distance.
Just as when Sweden instituted relaxed lockdown measures to combat the virus, the Dutch government was immediately criticized for its decision, with opponents arguing that such announcements damage trust and create confusion. Microbiologist and epidemiologist Amrish Baidjoe wrote an open letter last week demanding the government institute a mask mandate.
“They have been saying masks do not work for too long, and that makes it difficult to change,” he said, as reported by Dutch News. “It is part of a trend of being far too definitive in communication about things which are not so certain.”
According to the CDC, cloth masks are an effective shield against the spread of COVID-19:
This review included two case studies out today, one from JAMA, showing that adherence to universal masking policies reduced SARS-CoV-2 transmission within a Boston hospital system, and one from CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), showing that wearing a mask prevented the spread of infection from two hair stylists to their customers in Missouri.
Additional data in today’s MMWR showed that immediately after the White House Coronavirus Task Force and CDC advised Americans to wear cloth face coverings when leaving home, the proportion of U.S. adults who chose to do so increased, with 3 in 4 reporting they had adopted the recommendation in a national internet survey.
In the early stages of the pandemic here in the United States, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, argued against wearing masks before reversing that position several weeks later. Fauci, however, maintains that he was simply following CDC guidelines to preserve PPE.
“I don’t regret anything I said then because in the context of the time in which I said it, it was correct. We were told in our task force meetings that we have a serious problem with the lack of PPEs and masks for the health providers who are putting themselves in harm’s way every day to take care of sick people,” Fauci said earlier this month.
This week, Dr. Fauci even went as far as to argue that people should wear goggles and eye-shields.
“If you have goggles or an eye shield, you should use it,” Fauci told ABC News Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton on Wednesday. “You have mucosa in the nose, mucosa in the mouth, but you also have mucosa in the eye. Theoretically, you should protect all the mucosal surfaces. So, if you have goggles or an eye shield, you should use it.”