Mask Wearing Impacts Fight Against COVID-19 in Liberia

Ms. Evelyne Koikoi

Fahnbulleh Tarr is a commercial bike rider in Paynesville City who commutes with scores of people daily. Keeping his mask on throughout the day is a challenge for him, although he’s aware of the protection it gives him against COVID-19.

“Most times I have to bring it down my chin and carry it back up because I couldn't breathe freely,” Tarr explains how he adheres to the government's regulation of wearing masks in public places. He always carries spare masks to give passengers who are without one. "I brought enough masks to give to some of my passengers who might not have some,” he said. 

Tarr knows the threat that COVID-19 poses and how it has ravaged advanced health systems in other parts of the world. 

"Even countries like the great United States and others that have strong and advanced health systems are battling with the virus. And they are encouraging their citizens to wear masks,” he said. 

Wearing masks is becoming a global culture amid the pandemic, but getting used to it is a difficult thing for many people in Liberia because of the breathing complexity. Amid the third wave, the Ministry of Health gave a strong mandate for everyone with the exception of babies and perhaps toddlers to wear masks, but adherence to the mandate is a challenge as many people wear it under their chins or below their noses and raise it up when approaching the Police.

For Tenneh Kollie, a petty trader in Red Light Market – one of the densely populated commercial districts of Paynesville city – she’s aware of the risk of contracting the virus. So, Tenneh always keeps her mask on.

"Wearing the mask is for my good because you don't know who is carrying the virus so when you have your mask on it will protect you from the person you are interacting with, especially street sellers like me who transact business with many people from different areas,” she explains.

“It doesn't matter where you put your mask. People coming from this place, that place, once you are wearing your mask, you will be safe if the person has the virus." 

"We are defenseless against COVID-19, masks are the most powerful weapons we have to use to slow down and stop the spread of the virus particularly within the communities,” explains Christine Allison -- a resident of Paynesville. “We have a responsibility to protect ourselves, families, and our neighborhoods."

Allison is puzzled that people give excuses for not wearing their masks. “Some people are refusing to wear masks because they do not feel comfortable covering their nose and mouth for fear of suffocation,” she said.  

She added: "Get adapted to it. This is our only means of overcoming the pandemic. We must always wear a mask to protect ourselves against the virus”.

And Evelyne Koikoi asserts that “Compulsory mask-wearing is responsible for the decrease in the number of COVID-19 cases” in the country.

"Many thanks to our police officers who are in the street day and night making sure that people wear their masks. Other countries are reporting a high number of deaths, we should thank God and wear our masks,” Koikoi acknowledged. 

In June this year, the Ministry of Health reinstituted the COVID-19 guidelines, mandating joint security including the Liberian National Police, the Liberia Drug Enforcement Agency, and the Liberia Immigration Service to enforce the wearing of masks in public places. Since then, wearing masks in public areas has increased significantly. 

By the end of June 2021, Liberia had a total of 1,783 when the new wave of the pandemic hit the country, according to NPHIL. But between July and August, the number of active cases dropped from 2,533 to 48. 

Mask wearing,  hand washing, and social distancing are guidelines recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) to slow and prevent the spread of COVID-19 since it can be transmitted through droplets from an infected person to a non-infected person. It is a measure used globally to suppress the transmission of the virus.

According to reports, countries, including the United States, India, Brazil, and the UK that are reporting high numbers of cases have mandated citizens to wear masks in all public areas including children that are below the ages of two.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advised masks for fully vaccinated and unvaccinated People in public areas. It recognizes masks as the most powerful weapon to stop and prevent COVID-19.

Chester Smith, the head of Risk Communication at the National Public Health Institute (NPHIL) disclosed that there has been a massive increase in mask-wearing in public places. However, Smith warned against wearing masks the wrong way.

“We say the mask should be worn covering your nose and mouth, unfortunately, we have seen a lot of people wearing their mask under their chin and some just putting it in their pocket because the police will ask for it,” Smith said. 

Despite Mr. Smith’s concern that some people wrongly wear their masks while outdoors, he was optimistic that mask wearing has impacted the response against the pandemic in the country.  

"As a country, we have done well. There has been tremendous work done. We now have Gbarpolu, Rivercess, Bomi, Sinoe, and Grand Gedeh Counties to be classified as counties without COVID-19 cases,” he said, adding that 5,460 people have recovered.

"In the last two to three weeks, we have dropped inactive cases to 65. Unfortunately, we have had one death taking our numbers to 220 since 2020."