by Bernadette Sukley
The mask has become a 2020 wardrobe must. Here’s a bit of education on who should wear one, how to wear one and myths associated with masks.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) pieces, or facemasks, are already worn by a number of professionals—such as car painters, manicurists, food workers, welders, dentists, doctors, and nurses—because their jobs require it. But now that the COVID-19 pandemic has hit us, people in all walks of life are wondering if they also need to wear a medical mask or other face covering.
The answer is that it depends on you are and what you do.
- Health-care workers regularly wear medical masks depending on their exposure to infected populations. It helps to protect them from liquid droplets expelled by coughing and sneezing as they interact with patients seeking care. The coronavirus has only made this more urgent.
- Those with suppressed immune systems should wear masks now as well. This includes people on medication regimens (rheumatoid arthritis or psoriasis), those who have had recent surgeries (like open-heart or transplants), any patient recovering from a hospital stay, and those who are undergoing chemotherapy.
- Those who have active infections or tested positive for coronavirus must wear masks. Even if you don’t have any symptoms, it’s best to self-quarantine and stay away from crowds. If you must grab groceries, meds, walk your dog, and perform other necessary functions of life that take you near other people, wear a medical mask.
- If you are sick (either with a cold or symptoms of allergies) and must go out to the market or drugstore, wear a mask, especially if you are coughing or sneezing.
For non-healthcare professionals, the World Health Organization suggests that if you are healthy, you only need to wear a medical mask if you are taking care of a person with suspected coronavirus infection. It will protect you.
How to wear a mask:
a) Before putting on a mask, wash your hands with hand sanitizer or soap and water.
b) Cover your mouth and nose with the mask and make sure there are no gaps between your face and the mask.
c) Avoid touching the mask while using it. If you do, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
d) Replace the mask with a new one as soon as it is damp.
e) To remove the mask, start with the straps behind your ears. Do not touch the front of the mask.
f) Dispose of the mask properly. Discard immediately after use in a closed bin. Then clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
g) Do not re-use a single-use mask.
Myth 1: Everyone should wear a medical mask when going outside.
Truth: Not necessarily. If you are walking in a field or your own backyard—you don’t need one. In a crowded hospital—yes, absolutely. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the virus is thought to spread mainly between people who are within about six feet of one another through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
Myth 2: I can make my own mask to use.
Truth: Sure, but it will not meet the professional standards of a medical mask, and the effectiveness of homemade masks is very much in doubt. Most professional PPEs are made with non-woven fabric, which has better bacteria filtration and air permeability while remaining less slippery than woven cloth. Those cotton masks all over Pinterest are cute, but they should be washed after every single use. And if you touch them with your hands—forget about it. In 2013, a study for the American Medical Association’s Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness quarterly, advised that homemade masks should only be used as a last resort to prevent droplet transmission.
Myth 3 : Anything over my face is better than nothing.
Truth: Any face covering reduces the spread of coronavirus by blocking outgoing germs from coughs or sneezes of an infected person. But it’s the incoming germs you need to worry about. Wearing a bandana or scarf can allow germs in or out. Plus, masks are effective only when used in combination with frequent hand washing, and the use of an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
Be safe. Be smart. Use protection. Wash your hands frequently.
Video on WHO’s How to Wear a Mask: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M4olt47pr_o#action=share
National Institutes of Health (NIH): https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24229526
World Health Organization (WHO): https://www.who.int/publications-detail/advice-on-the-use-of-masks-in-the-community-during-home-care-and-in-healthcare-settings-in-the-context-of-the-novel-coronavirus-(2019-ncov)-outbreak
Centers for Disease Control (CDC): https://www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/masks.htm & https://www.cdc.gov/flu/professionals/infectioncontrol/maskguidance.htm
Photo by Amin Moshrefi (Iran).
Bernadette Sukley has been in publishing for over 25 years. She’s written and published fiction and nonfiction books, short stories and articles. Her work has appeared in international magazines, including SAGA, a Scandinavian fashion magazine. She is a member of the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group (GLVWG) and served a year as the co-chair for its annual conference, The Write Stuff, and has served a year as GLVWG's anthology editor.