On March 11, the World Health Organization officially declared the global COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic. The infectious disease, which came to light in December 2019, has claimed the lives of thousands and has sparked growing fear around the world. As governments worldwide struggle to implement emergency action such as travel bans, strict community quarantines, lockdowns, and social distancing, the public continue to take individual measures to safeguard their health. Among the prescribed measures are thorough handwashing, the use of disinfectants such as alcohol and hand sanitizer, and the wearing of face masks.
The crisis has triggered mass buying of surgical and N95 masks, causing a shortage in supply–and in some cases, leaving frontline medical workers vulnerable. Meanwhile, a great deal of uncertainty surrounds the effectiveness of face masks in protecting people against the virus. Let’s examine just how useful each type of mask is and when to use it.
Take care of your health!
Masks and misconceptions
The outbreak has seen the face mask turn into one of the most in-demand commodities in the world. News pieces feature people conducting their everyday businesses–in transport, in queues, crossing the streets–all clad in masks. These images would certainly send one scurrying to get their hands on a face mask.
Recently, however, there have been warnings from health authorities suggesting otherwise. In fact, some officials maintain that healthy people wearing masks as a precaution could do more harm than good, considering limited supply and the probability of increased hand-to-face contact when not worn properly. As the issue raises more debates in the medical world, masks remain to be a highly sought-after tool in the fight against COVID-19.
How masks work
Masks are not a foolproof measure that you won’t catch the disease–however, it is important to note that they significantly increase protection against it. COVID-19 is understood to be transmitted through droplets. While there is a chance that smaller particles can penetrate masks, they have been discovered to be effective in terms of catching droplets. Wearing a mask decreases the likelihood of being infected once you come in contact with a patient, and also reduce the risk of passing it onto others. The WHO also warns that the use of masks such as surgical masks alone is ineffective in protection against disease–it is recommended to be combined with hand hygiene.
Kinds of masks
We look at the common types of face masks and their uses.
A face shield is a device designed to cover a person’s entire face. Designed as proection against debris and infectious materials, these are more commonly used in medical and laboratory settings. These masks should be worn by health workers.
An N95 respirator is commonly used in medical settings and emergencies. It can protect against particles but not vapors or gases. It can help health workers by blocking airborne particles when worn correctly. These masks should also be worn by health workers.
There has been overwhelming demand for surgical masks and whether they should be used by healthy people remains a topic of debate. It is recommended that healthy people only wear the mask when they’re caring for those suspected to be infected with COVID-19. Sick people are urged to wear the mask to avoid infecting others.
Those who use surgical masks should know how to use them properly, from putting them on to discarding them. Always clean your hands before touching a face mask. Hands must be washed and cleaned with alcohol before putting a mask on and after taking it off.
To put it on, the white side touches the face while the colored side should face away from you. The mask should be molded onto the face as an improper fit leaves room for error. It should be tied securely. They must also be changed every four hours.
Cloth and DIY masks
Cloth and DIY masks have popped up in response to the shortage in surgical and N95 masks. They are not as effective as other types of masks but do give some protection versus no barrier. Reusable cloth masks may be used but they must be frequently washed and they should also worn as close to the face as possible. Healthy people who want an extra layer of protection can make do with face or DIY masks - but be aware of the risks.
Know your symptoms
Proper hygiene and safety measures are every person's duty
The current situation is definitely troubling, but individuals must do their part in the fight against COVID-19. As the pandemic continues, proper hygiene and safety measures are not just a precaution, but every person’s civic duty.
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