On Spandex, coffee and other covid measures

3 minute read

Citizen science is unearthing many appealing alternatives to mask-wearing. Let’s look at the evidence.

Lockdown 6 in Victoria has been extended and the daily case numbers continue to rise.

Thankfully we Melbournians are still permitted to leave home for one of five reasons; however, under the current lockdown orders whenever anyone over the age of 12 years is outdoors, in a shop or on public transport, a fitted face mask must be worn unless a lawful exception applies. 

On my once-daily permitted walk around my local suburb, usually via the shopping strip and the bay foreshore, it is interesting to observe how many people – perhaps 20-25% – are failing to comply with the mandatory mask requirements.

It is unclear why. One can theorise that perhaps there is a perception that masks are not required in the great outdoors, or that masks don’t work or that covid is not as serious as it is made out to be or it is in fact a hoax or it’s political or that rules made by government to protect the public simply don’t apply to some individuals.

I’m wondering whether the non-mask wearers would be comfortable if the same stance were adopted in a hospital setting? Would they be OK with abandoning the time-honoured scientific recognised methodologies and requirements for healthcare professionals to wear masks while performing procedures or surgery? “Pass the scalpel please nurse, and excuse me while I cough all over this open abdomen”?  

But to their credit, many people in the community seem to have found alternative methods of infection control that are just as effective as wearing a mask. Perhaps there does exist a body of peer reviewed scientific evidence that validates this position?

These alternative measures include but are not limited to:

  • Standing outside a coffee shop and drinking a cup of coffee very slowly while conversing with friends
  • Holding a bike and drinking a cup of coffee or chatting with friends
  • Walking alone or with friends holding an empty coffee cup
  • Walking with any beverage
  • Walking the dog(s) – the more dogs the better the protection
  • Walking with a bike
  • Walking with a facemask under your chin
  • Walking with a facemask on your arm
  • Wearing Spandex
  • Pretending to exercise
  • Smoking tobacco
  • Smoking other substances
  • Vaping

So what does the literature reveal? A quick review of the literature has identified one study indicating that coffee and its active ingredient TMX might be a potential adjunctive treatment ­– but sadly the paper’s chief purpose is to illustrate that you can prove anything with a non-rigorous study.

One study indicated nicotine patches may protect people in high-risk areas until they are vaccinated, but another review indicated that smoking can increase the risk of severe covid symptoms and aggravate the condition of patients with covid, and found no evidence that smoking is a preventative measure.

This review also suggested that smokers gathering and sharing tobacco may promote the spread of viruses. The same comment could equally apply be applied to coffee drinkers. 

There did not appear to be any other evidence base to validate the holding of an empty coffee cup or walking with a dog or a bike or the wearing of full-body Spandex as being as effective as wearing a face mask.

One can only conclude that more funded research is desperately required into this rapidly developing alternative field of infection control.

One hopes that governments, health ministers and the Medical Research Future Fund appreciate the immediate need to investigate this further and have set aside research funding accordingly. 

Dr Nathan Pinskier is a Melbourne GP and practice owner

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