Even though surgical face masks are being snapped up locally, Cayman’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. John Lee said they only offer limited protection against viruses.

“A surgical mask, which is the thing that many people are trying to get hold of, will only protect you for about 15 minutes until the mask becomes soaked. At that point, it’s letting everything through that you think you’re being protected [from]. So, it’s absolutely a false sense of security,” Lee said during an interview about Cayman’s response to COVID-19 on CIG-TV Wednesday night.

Lee said his advice would be rather than wearing a mask, people should keep a safe distance from others in social settings.

“That is your protection, better than the mask. Masks may have a value in some certain instances, like, if somebody has a cold, an active cold, or may sneeze unexpectedly, may cough unexpectedly, and they need to present themselves to the doctor, or maybe they are walking through the airport,” Lee said. “They may be asked to put a mask on in order to cut down any potential droplets spread at that point. But for most other circumstances, it’s not recommended.”

This week, local pharmacies and stores reported that they had limited supplies and in some cases, no stock, of surgical masks, hand sanitisers and disinfectant products. ,

Lee, addressing the spate of panic buying, said the most important preventative step is keeping hands clean.

He said soap and water, which is in plentiful supply on the island, “will do absolutely fine”.

“If you come to a sink where there’s just dish detergent, that’ll do fine, as well. Wash your hands frequently with soap and water, and if you don’t have access, then use the hand sanitiser,” Lee said.

The Health Services Authority and Public Health Department have been putting out information on COVID-19 through social media and will be delivering pamphlets to neighbourhoods, especially focussing on the elderly who do not have access to the internet.

Hazard Management Cayman Islands Director Danielle Coleman, who was also interviewed, said residents will have to rethink attending large public gatherings, like church, social and sports events, if the virus hits local shores.

“These kinds of gatherings will not be encouraged at all because, at the end of the day, that’s how it spreads [and] happens very, very quickly,” she said.

When it comes to schools, Coleman said, if any outbreaks occur, Hazard Management will work with the institution and make sure that they shut down certain classes or the whole school, if necessary.

She added that if coronavirus reaches Cayman, residents should consider stocking up on food supplies, reading material, games, etc., as their family could be placed under quarantine for 14 days if they display symptoms. She said local retailers are stocking up on the essentials, as well.

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