From the onset of the novel coronavirus pandemic, discussions on ways to mitigate the spread of the disease have been rife. Key among the topics generating information output is how individuals can cost-effectively protect themselves using face, medical or surgical masks to avoid contracting the disease. Some have gone as far as suggesting that some articles of clothing like underwears can be used as protective coverings against the coronavirus. This is not surprising as the price of surgical and medical masks have increased significantly since the onset of the pandemic.
There have, however, been varied and changing views on whether or not facial protective items should be worn by all or some and how it should be worn.
The Changing Narrative
The World Health Organisation (WHO) and other health authorities including the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) did not, at the outset of Covid-19, recommend the use of face masks by healthy individuals in the community setting, restricting its use to only persons infected by the virus, their caregivers, and frontline workers. This stance, according to the WHO, is based on the lack of evidence available on its usefulness in protecting people who are not Covid-19 positive.
The WHO still maintains that healthy individuals need not use medical masks as they are to be prioritized for healthcare workers. It has, however, given the go-ahead for decision-makers to implement the use of nonmedical masks by citizens.
The CDC, on the other hand, has approved now the use of cloth face masks. According to the organisation, recent studies show that individuals who are asymptomatic and those who do not show early symptoms may transmit the virus before they start to show. Therefore, the wearing of masks can help slow the spread of the virus in areas that do not enable appropriate social distancing.
Types of masks and the upsurge in cloth masks
Various types of face masks are being used to curb the spread of Covid-19. Key among them are the recommended medical masks for health care facilities which are the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)-certified N95, European Union (EU) standard FFP2, or equivalent.
Non-medical masks or cloth face coverings have also gained popularity following the shortage of medical masks. They are not considered to be medical because they have not been tested for fluid resistance, filtration efficiency, that is, particulate filtration and bacterial filtration efficiency, flammability and biocompatibility. This type of mask is what has been approved by the CDC for communal use by healthy individuals.
Some specifications for Masks
Generally, medical or surgical masks should meet some basic requirements to be effective in providing protection to the user. For instance, an appropriate medical or surgical mask should help block large-particle droplets, splashes, sprays, or splatters that may contain viruses and bacteria from reaching the nose and mouth. Additionally, masks should be able to block very small particles in the air, transmitted through coughs, medical procedures etc. The material used for producing these masks must NOT be permeable to droplets and the finished mask should not be loose-fitting.
In relation to the use of cloth face coverings, it is recommended that each mask meet certain requirements to be regarded as somewhat effective; they should be made from breathable materials, be made with multiple layers of fabric/tissue, be water or fluid repellent and should fit firmly around the nose and mouth.
Improper use of Masks
As the wearing of these facial coverings has been established and the face masks are being used by the general public, other problems have been identified.
First among these problems is the location of the mask on the face of the wearer. In Ghana, people have been seen wearing their masks on their chins, hanging on their necks or covering the mouth and leaving the nose uncovered. All these are wrong ways of wearing masks especially if the intention is to protect yourself and others. See the correct way of wearing the face masks/ face covering below.
Secondly, people have been seen wearing the masks even while alone in their cars or not in close quarters with other individuals. This is however not necessary unless you are in the car with other people. Experts have reported on when it is necessary to wear face masks and for what duration they should be worn.
As wearing face masks is new to many people, it is something that will take a lot of conscious effort to do and be done right as it may be uncomfortable for many. However, it is important to note that wearing these masks is NOT a proven solution to safeguarding oneself from the virus, as disregarding the rules associated with its use can be just as harmful to the user as not wearing it in the first place. Proper pre-use, use and post-use procedures like frequent washing and correct removal methods, need to be followed and the WHO has information on that here.
It is still important that the prescribed hand washing and sanitizing protocols be observed to curb the continuous spread of the coronavirus. Additionally, healthcare personnel and individuals, who use these medical masks and cloth face coverings should follow the appropriate use and disposal methods.