Dutch finalize “urgent” face mask advice; “Little effect” says RIVM’s Van Dissel
The Dutch government released the final draft of its latest face mask policy on Friday evening, saying that, “Wearing a mask is not mandatory, but it is strongly advised.” The necessity for the “urgent advice” was refuted almost simultaneous to its release by Jaap van Dissel, Director of the Infectious Diseases center at Dutch public health institute RIVM. He called the advisory notice an ineffectual political move by the Cabinet.
Prime Minister Mark Rutte said during a debate in Parliament earlier in the week that the Cabinet was in the process of changing its stance on face mask use after three straight months of increasing coronavirus infections. For September, the Netherlands recorded roughly 52,500 infections of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, more than triple the number of people who tested positive in August.
Testing was available to the general public starting on June 1. From that date through the end of September, 77,500 tested positive for the virus, over two-thirds of which took place last month.
Because of that increase, the government advised everyone aged 13 and up to wear a non-medical mask in indoor public spaces, including shops, museums, city halls, train stations, parking garages, and petrol stations, as well as restaurants, bars, cafes, theaters and concert halls. “In locations where everyone has an allocated seat, such as restaurants or theatres, people can remove their face masks while seated.”
The government also advised that people wear a mask during their entire visits to zoos and amusement parks, and other places where one might move frequently between indoor and outdoor spaces. This is to prevent repeatedly touching the mask and increasing a risk of infection.
RIVM maintains stance that masks are not helpful
Jaap van Dissel from the RIVM told broadcaster NOS that the masks will have "an exceptionally small impact" on the spread of coronavirus in the Netherlands. He said the stringent advice to use non-medical masks holds is not based on any scientific research of which he is aware, saying that studies which show mask effectiveness do not match up with the Dutch policy.
”For example, medical mouth masks were often used in those studies, and measures such as 1.5 meters of distance are not taken into account," he told the broadcaster. He pointed to other studies that put face masks in a less favorable view, which was part of the reason why the RIVM did not give a positive recommendation n the issue to the Cabinet. He told NOS That for the government to go another route is to make a decision “on the basis of political Implications.”
Nothing is more important than staying home when becoming symptomatic, maintaining a safe physical distance, washing hands frequently, and coughing or sneezing into one’s elbow, he repeated. As far back as March, Van Dissel has maintained a stance against the use of non-medical masks because they can create a false sense of security, and divert attention away from those measures which actually work.
His outspoken position against mask use was criticized last month by Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases in the U.S. Fauci, a proponent of all mask use including non-medical variants, is among the leading advisors in the U.S. guiding that country’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Van Dissel said to the broadcaster that he and his colleagues at the Outbreak Management Team, a collection of experts who regularly advise the Dutch government on its coronavirus response, will review the latest data on face mask use at the behest of the Health Ministry and in response to Fauci’s criticism. The OMT has been supportive of using masks where a safe physical distance cannot be maintained, like on public transportation and, more recently, inside busy shops.
"Obviously, as the OMT, we have also realized that some people would prefer to wear a face mask. If someone feels safer, we are fine with that," he said.