So When Should I Wear a P2 Mask?
The routine use of a P2 mask in public could be worthwhile if you wish to pursue a “delay infection” strategy (defined above) either temporarily or indefinitely.
Temporarily Delaying Infection
Examples where you may wish to pursue a temporary delay infection strategy include, but are not limited to:
- You simply “can’t afford” to catch COVID-19 right now due to an upcoming important work or social event.
- This might include an important work presentation, meeting, a key social function or a holiday you’ve booked.
- You probably would need to wear the P2 mask in public for 2 weeks prior to try to make a substantial difference to your risk of missing out on the event.
- You are caring for a family member with COVID-19 infection
- While in general you may not pursue a “delay infection” strategy, if you are the only functional carer for your family, you may wish to delay infection until your dependents are on the mend.
- Your omicron wave is at or near the peak and your health system is overwhelmed. Delaying infection may allow you to contract COVID-19 at a time when the system is recovering, benefiting both you and the system.
Indefinitely Delaying Infection
The main reason why you may wish to indefinitely pursue a delay infection strategy is if you wish to take the gamble that you will be able to successfully avoid infection until new more effective vaccines (e.g. an omicron specific vaccine assuming omicron is still the dominant variant when it is released) or new more effective COVID-19 treatments become widely available in Australia. It’s obviously pretty difficult to estimate what the chance of this occurring is and balance that against slowly waning immunity over time from even boosted vaccination. However you may be prepared to take this gamble if COVID-19 infection may cause serious illness or be life threatening for you because you have advanced age, underlying health conditions or you have a genuine contraindication to full vaccination with all currently available vaccines.
Of course, another reason one may wish to pursue a strategy to indefinitely delay infection is if further evidence in the future suggests the assumptions used above to illustrate the potential futility this strategy turn out to be incorrect (e.g. most Australians don’t contract COVID-19 or that infection combined with vaccination doesn’t provide durable protection against severe disease from future variants).
Reducing Viral Load
There is one other benefit to wearing a P2 mask – if you are wearing a P2 mask at the time of an exposure to COVID-19, it may reduce the viral load (amount of virus) that you inhale into your respiratory system compared to if you were wearing only a standard mask at the time. This might result in a milder infection and reduced chance of hospitalisation or severe complications.
It is hard to quantify exactly how much benefit the average person will receive in this regard from wearing a P2 mask in public, especially given the practical limitations in actually using a P2 mask routinely described above and the chance that COVID-19 infection could easily result from exposures occurring when you are not wearing any mask at all. However it’s safe to say, that the same type of person described above, who would benefit from indefinitely employing a delay infection strategy, is also likely to gain the most benefit from using a P2 mask to reduce viral loads they are exposed to.
In addition other people may choose to use P2 masks for this purpose, specifically in high risk situations where the risk of inhaling a high viral load is increased. This may include when they are present for an extended time period within an indoor space that contains a relatively high number of people (given the size of the room) such as crowded public transport, or a full meeting room, theatre etc.
Not delaying infection does not equal omicron parties
It is important to also note that if you choose not to employ a “delay infection strategy”, this is not a reason to actively seek COVID-19 infection through deliberate exposure to the virus e.g. events such as “omicron parties”. The reason such a strategy is unsafe, is that if you take such conscious steps to actively infect yourself, you are reasonably likely to expose yourself to the highest viral loads and therefore potentially the highest risk of the most severe infection outcomes.
Ultimately fully vaccinated individuals need to strike a nuanced balance between the potential benefits, harms and difficulties involved using a P2 mask as part of a delay infection strategy and decide for themselves. This may not be either a dichotomous or permanent decision and individuals may choose to ratchet up or down their steps to delay infection depending on various societal and personal circumstances and future information released about new COVID-19 variants, vaccines and treatments. Additionally there may be specific high risk situations where people may choose to use the P2 mask.
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