Why you should wear a mask?

I spoke to Yecenu of KISS FM yesterday about wearing a facemask as part of our strategies to prevent catching the Coronavirus and developing the Covid-19 DISEASE. She had asked me the following questions and I think is pertinent to repeat here.

What is the level of protection masks can provide?

Facemasks are very important in the prevention of the spread of this virus. Facemasks especially the high-grade masks used by doctors and nurses, offer the highest level of protection because they prevent the germs from penetrating the mask. Additional plastic face shields used by doctors offer a second physical barrier. The point is to prevent the virus from getting to your eyes, nose and mouth. This is the same reason why we tell people to wash their hands because alcohol or soap can kill the virus and so prevent you from carrying it into your eyes, nose or mouth.

The virus is transmitted to people through breathing it in or carrying it on the hands to the face. We now know that many people can shed the virus without knowing it. Many patients without any symptoms can be carriers of the virus: shedding it when talking, sneezing or coughing. So, someone who looks well, talking to you, can inadvertently give you the virus. You also know that some people spit when talking. Imagine that!

So, if you are wearing a facemask in such a situation, you are protecting yourself. Someone with the virus and without symptoms will not be spitting it out into the air. Someone talking to such a person will also reduce their risk of catching the virus IF they are wearing a mask or a barrier.

How effective are the homemade masks?

The homemade masks are or can be an effective barrier. They reduce the amount of virus getting into your face. The virus will be on the outside of the mask. This may be of benefit in reducing your risk of infection or the severity of the infection. The homemade masks are made of different materials and so vary in their effectiveness. They are not as good as the N95 respirator masks or the surgical masks used by surgeons during an operation. However, they still offer a physical barrier and so are useful.

They are also easy to make and can be made readily available for the majority of Nigerians. Handkerchiefs, scarfs and bandanas can also be used as a physical barrier to cover the nose and mouth. Use what you have!

What is the protocol for wearing a mask?

There is no specific protocol for wearing a mask except that you should wear it when out in public. Also, wear it near anyone including a family member with the Coronavirus. The facemasks can be single-use or reusable. The high-grade medical masks are often disposed of immediately after use, though some can be sterilised and reused.

Reusable homemade masks: What is the proper way to keep them clean?

The homemade facemasks are made of cloth-like cotton and can be washed and reused. To wash them, take them off carefully and drop in a washbowl. Use soap, hot water and perhaps some disinfectant like Dettol, JIK or HYPO to soak them for a while. This should kill the virus and make the mask safe to wear again.

What is the proper way to dispose of these masks?

The masks should be treated as carrying the infection, so careful and safe disposal is recommended. As mentioned above, assume that the outside surfaces of the masks are contaminated. So, do not touch that area and use the straps to remove it from your face. Then, either dispose in the bin or wash the reusable facemasks. Then wash your hands with soap for at least 20- 40 seconds before touching your face.

Lastly, let’s talk about hand gloves. Are they in any way necessary for public use?

Hand gloves are of little benefit to members of the public and I would advise people not to bother with them. Doctors and nurses know how to wear the gloves, how to take them off safely and how to dispose of them correctly. Many people don’t.

This makes it a bit dangerous to the person wearing it and even more of concern to other people. The most important point is that someone wearing hand gloves will have a false sense of protection. That the hand gloves are protecting them!

Unfortunately, the real risk is that they will touch different surfaces and may be inadvertently spreading the virus from one surface to another. We think this is worse when people are out shopping and touching different products with their gloves. It puts other people at risk.

Compare this false sense of security with someone not wearing a glove. They would be careful with what they touch and are more likely to wash or sanitise their hands more frequently. Safer for everyone!

NB: Stay at home. Wear a facemask when outside your home. Wash your hands frequently. Be safe.

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