LONDON: Many people across Asia wear face masks to try and protect themselves against Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. In Europe and the United States, masks are less commonly worn, but many people are asking: Should they wear them during the pandemic?
The World Health Organisation’s advice is that if you are healthy, you only need to wear a mask if:
You are caring for someone with suspected or confirmed Covid-19 infection.
You are coughing or sneezing yourself, or suspect you might have Covid-19.
Masks work by capturing droplets that are dispersed in coughs, sneezes and breath — these are the main transmission route of the new coronavirus.
There are two main types of mask: surgical masks, which are strips of fabric worn across the nose and mouth and closer-fitting ones sometimes called respirators.
Close-fitting masks — such as N95 ones — can offer good, but not total protection against infectious droplets, while the next rank up — the N99-rated masks — can give better protection, but some find them difficult to breathe through.
The “N” rating relates to the percentage of particles of at least 0.3 microns in diametre that the mask is designed to block: N95 masks stop 95pc and N99 masks stop 99pc.
Some masks have a valve in the front to help prevent moisture in exhaled breath condensing on the inside, making the mask wet and more liable to virus penetration.
Masks are only effective if you combine wearing them with frequent handwashing and ensure you don’t touch your face.
Anyone using a mask should make sure their hands are thoroughly cleaned with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitiser before putting it on.
The mask should cover your mouth and nose, and there should be no gaps between your face and the mask.
As much as possible, avoid touching the mask.
When the mask becomes damp, replace it with a new one. Do not re-use single-use masks.
“Wearing a mask can also reduce the propensity for people to touch their faces, which happens many more times a day than we all realise and is a major source of infection without proper hand hygiene,” said Stephen Griffin, an associate professor at Leeds University’s Institute of Medical Research.
Published in Dawn, March 26th, 2020