Pretty much, yes…
With Finland counting 5,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus at the time of publication, people have a lot of questions.
How long will the coronavirus outbreak last? Why are schools being reopened? Is there going to be a second wave of the coronavirus epidemic in Finland? Should I wear a mask?
Jussi Sane, Chief Specialist and Team Leader (Preparedness and Response) at the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) answers questions posed by our readers.
1. Isn’t it a risk to open schools when there is so much we don’t know about the disease? Even if children don’t get very sick themselves, we don’t know what kind of role they play in the transmission of the virus.
The understanding that we have right now is that infection in children is relatively rare compared to other age groups. It is a mild disease in kids where they develop little to no symptoms based on evidence from our studies. Of course, there are exceptions.
In Finland, we haven’t had any kids with severe infections needing hospitalisation or intensive care and this is in line with data from other countries. There are also studies indicating that the transmission of the virus from kids seems to be lower than in adults. It is not as effective as it is in adults.
We examined a school exposure situation in Finland where a nine-year-old with symptoms spent a day in school in March. Fellow students and a football team the child practised with had to be quarantined, but we didn’t observe any secondary infections — no one got infected from the child. Recent studies from France also looked at an asymptomatic child who attended school and interacted with a lot of people, but no secondary infections were observed.
Of course, we need more data to confirm this. We are currently conducting studies on a couple of school exposures and also examining households to see how the infection spreads to learn more.
When it comes to the decision of opening schools, obviously you have to look at how the disease behaves in children but the government and other actors also have to weigh in the negative effects of closing schools. You can’t keep schools closed forever. It is the same in every country. You need to find a good balance. You can never eliminate risks completely when it comes to any infection or threats in society. But you can reduce risks in many ways and then balance it with the pros and cons of school closure.
2. Would it help slow the spread of the virus if everyone wore masks in public places, even if they are homemade or fabric masks because of the shortages?
At the moment, there is no clear scientific evidence on this. THL and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health’s guidelines state that there are situations where you have to use masks like in healthcare. But when it comes to the general public using masks, specifically if it is homemade, the matter is not that simple — there may be risks associated with that as well. You have to know how to use them. If you have the infection or are symptomatic, the mask could protect people around you to some extent. But it is less effective to protect yourself by using masks, based on current information. To impose an obligatory mask rule, you really have to look at all factors and risks involved.
3. So should people wear masks when they go outside?
People can do that, but it is important that they get guidance on how to use masks and how not to use them. Because there are risks if you use masks without learning how to put them on and take them off. The Finnish Institute of Occupational Health FIOH has advice on how to use face masks correctly.