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COVID-19 Fact Check: Should We Wear Masks When Standing In Our Balconies?

Dr Bharat Gopal, Senior Consultant Pulmonology at Fortis Vasant Kunj, Delhi, answers questions related to masking up when inside your own home.

COVID-19 Fact Check: Should We Wear Masks When Standing In Our Balconies?

This article is a part of a series by The Better India to share verified information about COVID-19 care. While several posts on various aspects of fighting COVID-19 are being circulated on social media and messaging services like WhatsApp, we urge you not to trust unverified content. To separate fact from fiction, we will be sharing the videos and content with doctors and experts and bring you their responses with scientific research-backed information.

There is a theory in circulation regarding the spread of COVID-19 in high-rise buildings.

WhatsApp message doing the rounds:

It has been identified now that the virus is airborne, and if any [COVID-19-infected] person living above you coughs or sneezes in their balcony, and if you are standing in your balcony without a mask at the same time, then due to the droplets coming down, you may catch the infection without knowing it. So please wear a mask even outside your home, on the balcony (sic).

Dr Bharat Gopal Senior Consultant, Pulmonology, Fortis Hospital Vasant Kunj helps understand whether or not this is true.

Dr Bharat Gopal

“Whether you live in an apartment, in a high-rise building or not, please mask up and keep your distance from others in common areas, such as elevators, lobbies and hallways, to avoid catching the infection,” he says. He adds, “There is no epidemiological evidence that heating and air conditioning (HVAC) systems in a building can be the reason for the spread of the virus. However, incidental spread [like the example given in the message] is possible.”

Dr Bharat encourages you to wear a mask even if you are spending time on your balcony. “All the more so if you have tested positive for COVID-19. Then wear a mask if you decide to step out into the balcony and spend some time there,” he says.

While wearing a mask is now non-negotiable, it is equally important that you wear it in the correct manner. Ensure that the mask you wear covers your mouth and nose. There should be no gap between your face and the mask, the masks should have a comfortable and snug fit. Avoid touching the mask while using it, and if you happen to touch the masks, clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer or soap and water.

Dr V K Paul, head of India’s COVID-19 task force, has said that the time has come to wear masks at home settings to break the chain of transmission. According to this report, COVID-19 spreads primarily from person-to-person through respiratory droplets, which travel in the air when someone coughs, sneezes, talks, shouts or sings. These droplets can then land in the mouths or noses of people in the vicinity, or may be breathed in.

A large population of those infected with COVID-19 do not show symptoms. The asymptomatic people can continue to spread the infection at home, at a faster pace.

Dr Paul stressed that asymptomatic people can spread the infection even while talking. And infected people should isolate as much as possible. It is the flouting of these guidelines that has led to entire families testing positive for the virus in the second wave, even when most of them have stayed indoors.

(Edited by Yoshita Rao)

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