As Israel lifts mandate on indoor masks, medical experts still disagree on their effectiveness
More than two years into the pandemic, medical experts remain divided on the effectiveness of masks in combating the spread of COVID-19.
Israel lifted its indoor mask requirement on Saturday evening, marking the end of the rules that were first implemented in April 2020 as well as one of the few remaining coronavirus restrictions in the country.
Masks will still be required in some places, such as on airplanes, hospitals and aged care facilities.
Some doctors welcomed the decision and argued that masking should never have been imposed in the first place.
“I think mask mandates weren’t necessary from the start because there’s not enough scientific evidence that they’re really effective in reducing the transmission of coronavirus or viral respiratory illnesses,” Dr. Yoav Yehezkelli, an internal medicine specialist and co-founder of Israel’s outbreak management team, told The Media Line.
“Until the start of the pandemic, masks were not recommended in order to reduce the number of cases of viral respiratory illnesses,” he added. “There is not enough convincing research on its effectiveness.”
Yehezkelli, a lecturer at Tel Aviv University who specializes in emergency and disaster management, said the Health Ministry made a mistake in instituting a masking requirement. The main goal, he believes, was “to instill fear of the virus in the public”.
“I think the pandemic ended a while ago,” he said. “We are talking about a respiratory virus that looks like other respiratory viruses. It comes in waves, which is natural.
Nevertheless, those showing symptoms of the virus should continue to wear masks to avoid infecting others.
” It is important to note that [standard surgical] masks do not protect the wearer; they are meant to protect others,” Yehezkelli said.
Likewise, Professor Amnon Lahad, chair of the department of family medicine and associate dean of community health at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said ending masking is a step in the right direction.
“I’m glad people are starting to understand that we have to live with some level of COVID cases,” Lahad told The Media Line. “The government does not need to be involved in [masking] That much. Wearing a mask is now a personal choice; those at high risk and in crowded places [should wear them].”
Lahad stressed that he would continue to mask himself in indoor venues.
Nonetheless, he agreed with Yehezkelli that “there is very little quality research” on the effectiveness of masks in preventing infection. Still, he believes the warrants were necessary at the start of the pandemic when little was known about the virus and its health effects.
“After receiving the vaccines, which protect against serious illnesses, I think it was already possible to overturn the masking rules,” Lahad said.
Israel’s lifting of its years-old mask rules comes as disease rates continue to fall across the country, and on the heels of a similar decision in the United States, where a judge overturned federal rules for masking in public transport.
Although it looks like face coverings are on the way out, some medical experts still believe they significantly reduce transmission of the virus.
Professor Nadav Davidovitch, director of the School of Public Health at Ben-Gurion University and chair of the Taub Center’s health policy program, told The Media Line that “masks have played and continue to play a very important”.
“There’s no law requiring us to wash our hands after using the bathroom, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t,” Davidovitch said. “Overall, I think it’s the right decision. [to end the mandate] but we must understand that this does not mean that COVID-19 is gone. People need to keep getting vaccinated and using masks wisely. »
People most at risk of developing serious illness — such as those who are immunocompromised or the elderly — should continue to wear face coverings, he said. He also recommended that everyone continue to mask up in crowded places, such as buses.
“If cases start to rise again, we may have to go back to masking,” Davidovitch warned. “We also cannot forget that the whole issue of long COVID and the long-term effects of the disease is still being felt, and we have to deal with it.”