What a difference a mask can make | AMA (WA)


Dr Andrew Miller demonstrating N95 mask

What a difference a mask can make

Friday May 7, 2021

Here’s a transcript of a media conference with AMA (WA) President, Dr Andrew Miller, on Monday 3 May 2021.

The subject is appropriate PPE for hotel quarantine. The transcript includes a preamble to questions from the media, which featured a demonstration of a surgical mask versus an N95 mask, and Dr Miller’s response to the first question at the media conference.

ANDREW MILLER: In response to the suggestion that we have heard that it is not practical for people to wear proper respiratory protection at work, I just want to show you a surgical mask where you breathe around the sides. This is where the air comes in and out. It’s OK for droplets; it will protect you from some droplets. Then I have here an N95 mask. This mask doesn’t look a lot different and we put it on like this. Goes over the top, snug down on the nose there. This means that all the air that I breathe goes through this mask and it prevents the virus from getting down into my lungs and making me sick. It gives me proper workplace protection. I can wear this for 12 hours in an operating theatre or an intensive care without any problem. But if I am having a problem, my workplace has to give me a break or make my shift shorter. They don’t send me to work with sub-standard, dangerous surgical masks on to the floor of a hotel where I’m sharing the air with COVID-positive patients. Anyone who tells you that an N95 mask is too difficult to wear does not understand COVID and should not be anywhere near running a quarantine system in hotels which our Premier says are not fit for purpose.

JOURNALIST: The theory is that the plane, the bus, the hotel lift are all places where all of these people would have been wearing surgical masks. The guests are only allowed to take them off in their rooms. So the surgical mask obviously wasn’t enough to prevent transmission.

ANDREW MILLER: Well, the theory is in the Weeramanthri report and it’s quite clear that this is airborne spread and we know that a surgical mask does not protect anyone from airborne spread. It is useful for preventing droplets and the public wearing them out in the community is a good idea, it reduces it. But if you’re in the presence of someone with COVID-19 in the same room, breathing the same air, or in a hallway or a lift where they’ve been and you’re wearing a surgical mask, eventually you’re going to catch COVID-19. The longest exposure that these guards have is not in a bus or an aeroplane, it’s not in a lift. It’s in the hallway where they work, where we know already this year that the virus comes out from the room and floats down the hallways. None of our hotels are set up to prevent that and I don’t understand why the advice to our Health Minister is so bad. Nor do I understand why our Health Minister has not researched this himself enough so far to understand that there’s a very strong view in the scientific community, including from the World Health Organization, that aerosol spread is the cause of these outbreaks.