Can face masks help slow the spread of the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) that causes COVID-19? Yes, face masks combined with other preventive measures, such as frequent hand-washing and social distancing, help slow the spread of the virus.
So why weren’t face masks recommended at the start of the pandemic? At that time, experts didn’t know the extent to which people with COVID-19 could spread the virus before symptoms appeared. Nor was it known that some people have COVID-19 but don’t have any symptoms. Both groups can unknowingly spread the virus to others.
These discoveries led public health groups to do an about-face on face masks. The World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now include face masks in their recommendations for slowing the spread of the virus. The CDC recommends cloth face masks for the public and not the surgical and N95 masks needed by health care providers.
How do the different types of masks work?
Also called a medical mask, a surgical mask is a loose-fitting disposable mask that protects the wearer’s nose and mouth from contact with droplets, splashes and sprays that may contain germs. A surgical mask also filters out large particles in the air. Surgical masks may protect others by reducing exposure to the saliva and respiratory secretions of the mask wearer.
At this time, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved any type of surgical mask specifically for protection against the coronavirus, but these masks may provide some protection when N95 masks are not available.
Actually a type of respirator, an N95 mask offers more protection than a surgical mask does because it can filter out both large and small particles when the wearer inhales. As the name indicates, the mask is designed to block 95% of very small particles. Some N95 masks have valves that make them easier to breathe through. With this type of mask, unfiltered air is released when the wearer exhales.
Health care providers must be trained and pass a fit test to confirm a proper seal before using an N95 respirator in the workplace. Like surgical masks, N95 masks are intended to be disposable. However, researchers are testing ways to disinfect N95 masks so they can be reused.
Some N95 masks, and even some cloth masks, have one-way valves that make them easier to breathe through. But because the valve releases unfiltered air when the wearer breathes out, this type of mask doesn’t prevent the wearer from spreading the virus. For this reason, some places have banned them.
A cloth mask is intended to trap droplets that are released when the wearer talks, coughs or sneezes. Asking everyone to wear cloth masks can help reduce the spread of the virus by people who have COVID-19 but don’t realize it.
Cloth face coverings are most likely to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus when they are widely used by people in public settings. And countries that required face masks, testing, isolation and social distancing early in the pandemic have successfully slowed the spread of the virus.
While surgical and N95 masks may be in short supply and should be reserved for health care providers, cloth face coverings and masks are easy to find or make, and can be washed and reused.
Masks can be made from common materials, such as sheets made of tightly woven cotton. Instructions are easy to find online. Cloth masks should include multiple layers of fabric. The CDC website even includes directions for no-sew masks made from bandannas and T-shirts.
How to wear a cloth face mask?
The CDC recommends that you wear a cloth face mask when you’re around people who don’t live with you and in public settings when social distancing is difficult.
Here are a few pointers for putting on and taking off a cloth mask:
Wash or sanitize your hands before and after putting on and taking off your mask.
Place your mask over your mouth and nose.
Tie it behind your head or use ear loops and make sure it’s snug.
Don’t touch your mask while wearing it.
If you accidentally touch your mask, wash or sanitize your hands.
If your mask becomes wet or dirty, switch to a clean one. Put the used mask in a sealable bag until you can wash it.
Remove the mask by untying it or lifting off the ear loops without touching the front of the mask or your face.
Wash your hands immediately after removing your mask.
Regularly wash your mask with soap and water by hand or in the washing machine. It’s fine to launder it with other clothes.
And, here are a few face mask precautions:
Don’t put masks on anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious or otherwise unable to remove the mask without help.
Don’t put masks on children under 2 years of age.
Don’t use face masks as a substitute for social distancing.
Tips for adjusting to a face mask
It can be challenging to get used to wearing a face mask. Here are some tips for making the transition:
Start slow. Wear your mask at home for a short time, such as while watching television. Then wear it during a short walk. Slowly increase the time until you feel more comfortable.
Find your fit. If your mask isn’t comfortable or is too difficult to breathe through, consider other options. Masks come in a variety of styles and sizes.
Tie one on. Instead of a face mask, try a scarf or bandanna to cover your nose and mouth.
If these tips don’t help or you have concerns about wearing a mask, talk with your doctor about how to protect yourself and others during the pandemic.
How to Put On (Don) PPE Gear?
More than one donning method may be acceptable. Training and practice using your healthcare facility’s procedure is critical. Below is one example of donning.
Identify and gather the proper PPE to don. Ensure choice of gown size is correct (based on training).
Perform hand hygiene using hand sanitizer.
Put on isolation gown. Tie all of the ties on the gown. Assistance may be needed by other healthcare personnel.
Put on NIOSH-approved N95 filtering facepiece respirator or higher (use a facemask if a respirator is not available). If the respirator has a nosepiece, it should be fitted to the nose with both hands, not bent or tented. Do not pinch the nosepiece with one hand. Respirator/facemask should be extended under chin. Both your mouth and nose should be protected. Do not wear respirator/facemask under your chin or store in scrubs pocket between patients.*
Respirator: Respirator straps should be placed on crown of head (top strap) and base of neck (bottom strap). Perform a user seal check each time you put on the respirator.
Facemask: Mask ties should be secured on crown of head (top tie) and base of neck (bottom tie). If mask has loops, hook them appropriately around your ears.
Put on face shield or goggles. When wearing an N95 respirator or half facepiece elastomeric respirator, select the proper eye protection to ensure that the respirator does not interfere with the correct positioning of the eye protection, and the eye protection does not affect the fit or seal of the respirator. Face shields provide full face coverage. Goggles also provide excellent protection for eyes, but fogging is common.
Put on gloves. Gloves should cover the cuff (wrist) of gown.
Healthcare personnel may now enter patient room.
How to Take Off (Doff) PPE Gear?
More than one doffing method may be acceptable. Training and practice using your healthcare facility’s procedure is critical. Below is one example of doffing.
Remove gloves. Ensure glove removal does not cause additional contamination of hands. Gloves can be removed using more than one technique (e.g., glove-in-glove or bird beak).
Remove gown. Untie all ties (or unsnap all buttons). Some gown ties can be broken rather than untied. Do so in gentle manner, avoiding a forceful movement. Reach up to the shoulders and carefully pull gown down and away from the body. Rolling the gown down is an acceptable approach. Dispose in trash receptacle. *
Healthcare personnel may now exit patient room.
Perform hand hygiene.
Remove face shield or goggles. Carefully remove face shield or goggles by grabbing the strap and pulling upwards and away from head. Do not touch the front of face shield or goggles.
Remove and discard respirator (or facemask if used instead of respirator). Do not touch the front of the respirator or facemask.*
Respirator: Remove the bottom strap by touching only the strap and bring it carefully over the head. Grasp the top strap and bring it carefully over the head, and then pull the respirator away from the face without touching the front of the respirator.
Facemask: Carefully untie (or unhook from the ears) and pull away from face without touching the front.
Perform hand hygiene after removing the respirator/facemask and before putting it on again if your workplace is practicing reuse.
Who says coronavirus is all about gloom and doom? Life amid the pandemic has had its share of triumphs too, not just trials and tribulations. As we settle into a new normal, there’s no denying that the three-plus months of staying indoors also pushed our thoughts inwards — giving us a rare chance to learn and unlearn many lessons.
The lockdown, if you can call it that, shook the very foundation of our values and belief systems, yielding many Eureka moments and enabling us to realign or kick some stubborn habits, while developing new ones.
Gulf News staffer share their biggest takeaways:
As life lessons go, COVID-19 is perhaps the mother of all courses. An invisible teacher, coronavirus has some glaring truths to share. The entire world, for the first time ever, is on the same page, facing the same questions and looking for the same answers.
For far too long, we skimmed over words like global warming and climate change — the litany of jargon was simply lost on us. Even when we first read about coronavirus striking Wuhan in China, it didn’t bother us.
After all, how could something happening at a nondescript market in a faraway Tier-2 city possibly matter to us? But today, as the deadly virus transcends all borders and holds the world to ransom, we suddenly find ourselves jolted out of our apathy.
At a personal level, coronavirus has forced me to cut out the cynicism. I realise that as an individual, I cannot afford to be far-removed from the inextricably interconnected world that I am in. I know now that my every action, however small, will matter as much to me as it will to anyone, anywhere — and vice-versa.
In other words, there is no room to play solo or take cover in what is clearly a systemic dynamic. The circuit breaker has taught me to come to terms with this collective truth. And no, I will no longer rubbish this as rhetoric anymore.
Credits: Gulf News