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May 5, 2020

The Mandatory Use of Face Masks

The use of face masks is now a must for persons venturing in public during the next thirty days of the state of emergency.  That has created a whole new industry for enterprising Belizeans so that everywhere you go, the masks are now part of the norm.  But can the masks contribute to the deterioration of any pre-existing health condition. We got the answers from the experts. Here is News Five’s Duane Moody.


Duane Moody, Reporting

An amendment to Statutory Instrument Number Sixty-Two of 2020 has made the wearing of masks mandatory. All persons, when leaving their homes, must adhere to the law or they will be picked up by the police and charged for violating the state of emergency regulations during the COVID-19 situation. While many are complying, there are complaints of discomfort and difficulty breathing when using the protective face gear.


Dianne Finnegan

Dianne Finnegan, Belize City Resident

“Yesterday, I was doing my regular workout and I had on this mask. I didn’t want to take it off because I didn’t want to get charged. But in the midst of that, I felt as if though I was going to pass out and I had to take it off because I just felt that some research needs to be done on the use of the mask. I can understand why the police take off theirs. For you to be using this all day, it can’t be healthy.  I am healthy, I don’t have no kinda illness whatsoever, but I am going to be sixty, so I am at that high-risk age and I wouldn’t want after taking good care of myself that I just drop dead because of a mask. I may be exaggerating, but I just feel that eventually this is going to create some kinda problems for individuals that they will come down with a different kind of ailment.”


It is the basic process of inhalation—when you breathe in, the lungs bring oxygen into the body and as you exhale, you are breathing out carbon dioxide, a waste gas produced by the cells of the body.  So what about those persons who have pre-existing lung disease such as: asthma, or pneumonia and tuberculosis, or even lung cancer. Their condition can be further complicated by the usage of masks.


Fernando Cuellar

Dr. Fernando Cuellar, Internist

“When you inhale, when you exhale more than likely you will be inhale back the same, a little of the carbon dioxide as you put it and it will give you an adverse effect. If you do that too intense, too fast for a little while, your carbon dioxide will go up and you will feel either dizzy or woozy and feel some unfortunate way. For those particular persons who have already an underlying lung disease—like COPDs, asthma—when they are in the public, it is the best thing to protect them actually because they are a very highly vulnerable group. So rather be discomforting, take it easy than catch the virus because they would be in a particular adverse situation if they catch the COVID.”


Now, there are different types of face masks. Surgical masks are commonly used by frontline healthcare workers and are now retailing to the public at two dollars apiece. Recently, several persons as well as some organizations have embarked on the mass production of reusable cloth masks, which allows for a one-time investment, especially during the economic crunch. Doctor Fernando Cuellar, an internist at the Belize Medical Associates, who has been very vocal about the local response to the COVID-19, says that he advocates for the use of masks.


Dr. Fernando Cuellar

“These surgical masks are the better ones to use overall. They are designed to protect your airways better; they may be a bit more expensive. I use both the surgical masks here in the office, at the hospital because I am exposed to persons who are sick. But I also have cloth masks that if I am driving around, if I am outside, I can use a cloth mask. So those are the two differences between them. If I have, for example, I have right here the more specialized masks, the N95 masks. If I have any suspected case, I switch from this surgical to that which will give me better protection. That, people don’t need to be in the public with the N95 mask; just a face covering or the surgical mask.”


As a result of the nationwide lockdown, the Young Women’s Christian Association had closed off its programmes. The organization has now embarked on producing masks as a way of still providing a service to the community. At five dollars each, the design of their cloth masks takes into consideration air quality and effective breathing while using the protective accessory at this time.


Diana Gomez

Diana Gomez, General Secretary, Y.W.C.A.

“I did a bit of research and I realise cloth masks are recommended for the general public to use; not necessarily the medical or surgical masks, but cloth masks which is what we are producing. You have to make sure that you have breathing space in your masks. So all of those cloths that are coming straight across your face that suffocates; remember that you are breathing back in your carbon dioxide. We breathe in oxygen, we breathe out CO2 or carbon dioxide. So when you have that air circulating in a tight space, you are breathing back what you’re exhaling which is very unhealthy. So you need to make sure that you have space within your mask to breath and the ‘Y’ design does give you that.”


In the Belize context, the response to COVID-19, despite two recorded deaths, has been good and all positive patients have now recovered. There are warnings, however, that if Belizeans fail to be cautious, we can be hit with a second wave of the virus.  Doctor Fernando Cuellar says that the obligatory wearing of masks is a sacrifice that must be taken, regardless of discomfort.


Dr. Fernando Cuellar

“Of course it is a very inconvenient thing to have on, especially prolonged, maybe an hour. Even us in the medical field, who are used to face masks, now that we are using it twenty-four hours a day, twenty-three hours a day, twenty hours a day, we have also been affected. I can take off my mask right now and show you scars where it is drying up the skin on my face and I don’t like it, but it is necessary. I can understand the people who want to exercise and are being asked to use the face mask, then exercise at a less intensity. Exercise indoors; sacrifice for at least another month, but it is to the greater good of the Belizean public. If not, we wah up the ‘S’ creek again without a paddle this time if we were to have any second wave.”


Duane Moody for News Five.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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