Kenyans have largely ignored calls by the Ministry of Health to observe Covid-19 containment measures, even as infections rose to 7.2 per cent, the highest level since the onset of the sixth wave of the pandemic.
The surge in the positivity rate seen in the past one week made some Ministry of Health officials to change tune on the masking mandate, which had been lifted by Health cabinet secretary Mutahi Kagwe in March.
In a past event, Director of Public Health Francis Kuria asked Kenyans to consider wearing masks to minimise the spread of Covid-19.
An analysis by the Nation shows that over the past seven days, the country’s positivity was 5.9 per cent, with a high of 7.2 per cent being recorded yesterday June 9.
A spot check in counties that have been recording Covid-19 cases such as Nairobi, Bungoma, Kiambu, Nakuru, Kisumu, Kakamega, Murang’a, Siaya and Kilifi shows that fewer people still have their masks on.
Experts however say vaccination is a better prevention tool than masking.
Consultant Pathologist Ahmed Kalebi told the Nation that vaccination, ventilation and vigilance should be emphasised instead of masking.
“At this stage of the pandemic, the most important measure is for people to get vaccinated (for those who didn't get vaccinated) and boosted (for those already vaccinated). Vigilance includes avoiding crowded and poorly ventilated spaces and mask wearing should be done only to protect oneself, when necessary,” he explained.
Dr Kalebi explained that those who have been vaccinated and have received booster shots are adequately protected and may not need to wear face masks.
“Just as we don't impose widespread masking for flu, I don't think it is reasonable and practical to impose masking for Covid-19, because it is not sustainable. People should have the personal choice of whether to mask or not based on their circumstances and own reasoning,” he said.
Studies conducted earlier showed that masking is a key public health measure that can help stop the spread of Covid-19.
A study conducted last year by researchers from Stanford University and Yale University showed the effectiveness of masks, especially surgical masks as compared to cloth masks.
“We now have evidence from a randomised, controlled trial that mask promotion increases the use of face coverings and prevents the spread of Covid-19,” Stephen Luby, a professor of medicine at Stanford University, said in a statement.
“This is the gold standard for evaluating public health interventions. Importantly, this approach was designed to be scalable in lower- and middle-income countries struggling to get or distribute vaccines against the virus.”
Kenya is part of the lower- and middle-income countries and currently has only about 30 per cent of the adult population fully vaccinated.
Both the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization still vouch for wearing of face masks as a key intervention for reducing the spread of Covid-19.
In Nairobi’s Central Business District, volunteers from the Kenya Red Cross working with the Health ministry have been asking people to go for the jab.
The Nation yesterday spoke to Ms Lydia Christopher, who was holding a placard at the Kencom Bus station imploring people to get vaccinated against Covid-19.
“We have tried to improvise using this placard and we believe it is working. Once people see this, they become curious and actually come to get the jab,” she said.
Dr Kalebi believes that the worst phase of the pandemic is gone and that any future waves will be mild and leading to even fewer hospitalisations.
“I'm very confident that the worst of the pandemic is over and behind us in terms of accelerated huge spikes in caseload, high number of hospitalisations and deaths. This is thanks to vaccination of the vulnerable and the immunity from previous infection whereby more than 80 per cent of the population have been exposed to the last infection (but they still need to get vaccinated to have a safer level of immunity),” he said.
“In fact, even with the current rise in this evolving sixth wave, we are hardly seeing any hospitalisation and there haven't been any people on oxygen or ICU admission because Covid-19 is now less severe than before, since we hardly have cases of pneumonia from it – just upper respiratory infection,” he added.
As at June 8, only eight people had been admitted to hospital with Covid-19 across the country, none of whom needed intensive care or high dependency unit services.
“Covid-19 is here to stay as it will never be eradicated, and it will become like other respiratory viruses causing seasonal outbreaks such as flu and the other coronavirus that are responsible for common cold,” he said.
In South Africa and the United States, records show that Covid-19 hospitalisation is now highest among young people and especially children under the age of 10.
Dr Kalebi said this should warrant speedy vaccination of young people and children.