"We need to use the surgical mask better and more often, remembering that it also protects the people who wear it"
Giorgio Zanetti, vice-rector in charge of the "Teaching and Student Affairs " dicastery, sums up the first week of exams, which took place on site from 3 to 7 August. For the continuation of this autumn session, the UNIL Rectorate has decided on a corrective measure: the use of face masks in the queues and when walking in the examination rooms, starting on Tuesday 11th August. A subject that our interviewee knows well, since he is a professor of infection epidemiology and was responsible for the infection prevention programme at the CHUV. This is also an opportunity for him to talk about some preconceived ideas.
How did the first week of the fall semester go?
GZ: Overall, well. We're grateful to the faculties, who did a lot of work in organizing the session, so that it could take place, also partly on site. The departments have put in place the logistics required to comply with health constraints, such as managing flows and distances between people.
Some exams are taking place in the halls of the Dorigny University Sports Centre. At this location, groups of people close to each other were observed waiting for the doors to open. What measures has the Rectorate taken?
We found that it was difficult to ensure that distances were respected, particularly before and during entry to the examination rooms. I understand that some people feel insecure when they see these scenes, especially since they have no choice but to be there! In response to this, the Rectorate has updated the Protection Plan for the fall session classroom examinations. Contretely, starting Tuesday, August 11, students must wear a surgical mask in the waiting lines until they are seated at their table. In addition, if people move around the room, or interact with a supervisor within 1.5m of each other, a mask must also be worn, as must the supervisor.
Does UNIL offer these masks?
No, we do not give out masks, by agreement with our authorities. Nowadays, masks are part of everyday life because we are often asked to wear them. We therefore expect people to carry them with them when they go to UNIL.
At the end of the exams, group debriefings sometimes take place, in an emotional context...
... We appeal to the students' responsibility and encourage them to maintain the necessary distance. The virus is still circulating.
You're an infectiologist and epidemiologist. What about the effectiveness of the surgical masks we wear on public transport and in shops, and now at exam time?
There's a big misunderstanding that wearing a mask is a purely altruistic gesture. This is not true: it does protect others, but it also protects you from contamination, provided that you use it properly. This proper use is recalled in the publications of our cantonal authorities, which I encourage you to consult.
Where does this idea that the mask only protects others come from?
At the beginning of the health crisis, the federal health authorities chose to insist, in their communication, on the protection of others conferred by the mask. This was partly because a mask handled without precaution or worn incorrectly is a false friend: it loses its effectiveness and therefore puts you at risk. Secondly, it was important not to pretend that you become invincible with a mask on your nose, to the point of forgetting to maintain distances and to wash or disinfect your hands regularly, which remain essential. But these reasons should not eclipse the protective effect of the mask for oneself.
What is the basis for the claim that the mask protects those who wear it?
I refer to the practice of Swiss hospitals in the context of the pandemic as proof of this. Health care professionals are required to wear a surgical type mask when treating patients with Covid-19, but patients do not have one except in special cases. For months, CHUV staff have been treating hundreds of affected people, yet we have not seen a higher incidence of Covid-19 than in the general population. This concept has been practiced for decades: in addition to hand hygiene, professionals use masks to protect themselves effectively from numerous diseases transmitted by respiratory secretions.