It has been more than a month since the President of Indonesia, Joko Widodo, announced a lift on the mask mandate. On May 17th, 2022, the government of Indonesia held a press conference stating that starting from May 18th, 2022, people are allowed to not wear masks while doing outdoor activities where there is no crowd. However, masks are still required within indoor spaces and public transportation.
Ever since the announcement, many pre pandemic related occasions have been resurfacing, be it music concerts, car-free days, and others. It can be said that we are approaching a new era of coexisting with the Covid-19 pandemic, where most of us can comfortably do our daily activities without any restrictions.
However, for many people, the lift of the mask mandate feels a bit premature. After all, the pandemic still exists and it is quite difficult to rule out the social distancing protocols for events as big as music concerts. There will always be a possibility of another surge of cases to happen at any time, and it is also easy for people to not take it seriously considering the pandemic is “no longer dangerous”. This is true to an extent, considering how a virus can either mutate to be less infectious or to be more infectious but less dangerous.
We were also surprised by the news of novel acute hepatitis outbreaks in May of 2022, which further causes people to really doubt the safety of not wearing masks outside. In order to gain some clarity, we reached out to one of the experts in virology at Padjadjaran University.
“In my opinion as someone who knows the characteristics of the virus, the mask mandate should not be lifted until the condition is completely under control,” points out Mia Miranti Kusuma, a lecturer and the Head of the Microbiology Laboratory at The Department of Biology, Padjadjaran University. She specifically rules out the possibility of other virus outbreaks. Mia says that climate change also plays a huge role in these surges of viruses.
Here’s why: viruses “come out” often when there is something off with the weather/climate condition. In order to infect a host organism, a virus depends on the host’s immune system. With the unstable climate condition, we can imagine how the immune system has to compensate for it, especially without the help of supplements, healthy foods, and proper rest, Mia says. “The climate condition also gives an opportunity for viruses that were dormant or inactive to rise back to the surface,” she explains. This is certainly unsafe for people with already existing health problems.
To answer the question: yes, masks are still necessary to protect ourselves from the existing virus. It might not always be the coronavirus, but it never hurts to do an extra step of prevention to further keep our friends and families safe, considering there are many people who are unable to get vaccinated due to health conditions.
Ultimately, Mia still recommends the use of masks in public spaces as an act of prevention., at least until the year 2024. The number is a prediction after looking back to other global pandemics in history, which took approximately 4-5 years to subside. However, she also stated that in certain circumstances, it is safe not to wear masks.
On the other hand, she would like for people to look at it on the bright side. “We can look at it this way: a mask can protect us not only from viruses, but also from dust, pollution, and bacteria such as TBC,” she says. It can be said that the pandemic has played a major role in creating good hygiene practices and wearing masks is no exception. People are accustomed to not sharing food utensils, washing hands, and minimizing unnecessary physical contact. Furthermore, she advises people to take good care of their health by maintaining a good lifestyle. Another advice is to avoid stress as it is one of the contributing factors to how our immune system works until this “storm” has passed over.