Since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the wearing of masks and other protective protocols have been imposed on citizens in the various countries affected by the virus.
This is the case in Ghana as well and much more so now that figures of daily infections have risen exponentially with the country’s active case count reaching 8216 by February 10 as reported by the Ghana Health Service.
However, although more people are taking the wearing of masks more seriously, as stated during the Live Press Briefing on February 9th 2021, there isn’t much regard for the directives regarding the use of the mask and care during and after the use of the mask.
First, it is important to note that the mask is only part of a more comprehensive strategy to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. It is not the sole requirement and must, as such, be used with the other measures like frequent hand washing with soap, the use of sanitizers in the absence of water and soap, physical distancing, coughing or sneezing into the elbows among others.
Some issues identified with the use of masks in Ghana
- Disposal of masks
A fair number of Ghanaians do wear their masks but what is worrying is the way the masks are handled as the risks associated with improper handling of masks are grossly underestimated. As an occasional commuter, I have come across individuals who keep on damaged and defaced disposable masks, disregarding the disposability of the product.
I have observed drivers of public transport take off and hang their masks on their rear view mirrors, put it back on with no regard for where their hands have been and repeat the process over and over again.
Medical masks are to be disposed of after use or once damaged.
- Familiarisation with mask users
Another issue is regarding certain individuals as safe. For people who share spaces, like families and co-workers, there is the tendency to overlook certain cautions as there is likely a familiarisation or sharing system in place. I have personally caught myself reaching to take my mother’s mask or basically any mask at home because I am feeling lazy or need to dash out quickly. This is absolutely risky as it is impossible to know what that mask has come contact with. Familiarisation should be cut out when handling masks or other protective items especially during the Covid-19 pandemic.
- Disregard for severity of the need for caution
While it is important to keep our masks on at all times when in public, it is almost impossible to do so during the entirety of the wearing period. Therefore, the state of one’s hands before and after putting on the mask, removing or adjusting the mask could save the wearer from potential infection. The World Health Organisation (WHO) says that people are to ensure hands are clean before picking up and wearing the mask. There can be a transfer of the virus from your hand to the mask or from the mask onto your hand. It is that technical.
Likewise, during the period in which the mask is worn, there is the possibility of the mask sliding down while laughing or talking and this may require readjustment. It is almost automatic to quickly adjust it and go back to whatever was occupying the individual’s time but hands need to be disinfected prior to doing that. This is because the virus, if on the surface of the mask, can be transferred from the mask to your hand and consequently to other things like your phone, bag, hair etc.
This also applies to aftercare once reaching a safe space. It is important to wash hands or sanitize immediately after taking your mask off and disposing it.
As the virus cannot be seen with the naked eye, it is impossible to know when you come into contact with someone who has the virus or something, like a surface, on which the virus has settled. (It is safe to say that being a germaphobe is allowed now😅)
It is important to note that masks are not antiviral and do not kill the coronavirus.
WHO guidelines on masks usage
Since the how of wearing medical masks and cloth masks have been established, focus needs to be drawn to other factors associated with its use, such as storage, cleaning and disposal. The World Health Organisation(WHO) has listed the following as guidelines for the use of masks:
- Clean your hands before you put your mask on, as well as before and after you take it off, and after you touch it at any time.
- Make sure it covers both your nose, mouth and chin.
- When you take off a mask, store it in a clean plastic bag, and every day either wash it if it’s a fabric mask, or dispose of a medical mask in a trash bin.
- Don’t use masks with valves.