While waiting for clear guidelines regarding face mask use, Turku takes the initiative to recommend wearing one in public transport. However, the data supporting the benefits of wearing a cloth mask are limited.

Turku is the first city in Finland to recommend wearing a face mask in public transport. ‘It’s the responsibility of every resident to get one,’ the City of Turku noted in a statement on Friday. Stock photograph.

TURKU—The City of Turku recommends wearing a face mask to everyone traveling with public transport. “During the rush hour buses could be crowded and it’s not possible to maintain a safe distance. If possible, traveling should be scheduled outside rush hours,” the city noted in a statement on Friday.

There are 223 confirmed coronavirus infections in Turku, the southwestern city with about 193,200 inhabitants.

While the government has yet to issue national recommendations for face mask use, Turku—in the wake of a slight rise in the number of coronavirus infections in Finland—decided to take the initiative to give people time to adjust wearing one. The goal is, according to Mayor Minna Arve of Turku, to make mask-wearing a second nature and to help families to practice its use with children at home.

“Our schools begin in the middle of next week, and many are returning to workplaces. It is unreasonable to make people wait in the lack of clear recommendations,” Arve said in an interview with the local newspaper Turun Sanomat.

The World Health Organization considers face coverings as a complementary measure to other preventive tools such as physical distancing to help to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

However, the data supporting the benefits of wearing a cloth mask or face covering are very limited. Cloth masks offer very low filter collection efficiency for the smaller inhalable particles largely responsible for transmission.

One of the leading epidemiologists Michael Osterholm, who is the founder and director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota (CIDRAP) in the U.S., warns about the feeling of false security when wearing a cloth mask. “[The general public] should be made aware that [cloth] masks may provide some benefit in reducing the risk of virus transmission, but at best it can only be anticipated to be limited,” he said in a recent commentary on CIDRAP’s website.

“The messaging that dominates our Covid-19 discussions right now makes it seem that—if we are wearing cloth masks—you’re not going to infect me and I’m not going to infect you. I worry that many people highly vulnerable to life-threatening Covid-19 will hear this message and make decisions that they otherwise wouldn’t have made about distancing because of an unproven sense of cloth mask security,” he added.

Physical distancing, according to Osterholm, plays a key role in the fight against the pandemic “even when you wear a face covering.”