Face masks are part of a comprehensive package to curb the transmission of highly contagious viral diseases like coronavirus. They can either be used to protect healthy persons who may come into contact with an infected individual or for source control when worn by an infected person to prevent them from transmitting the virus.
However, it’s important to note that the use of face masks alone is insufficient in providing adequate protection. Compliance with other infection prevention and control (IPC) measures such as social distancing and hand hygiene is critical in preventing human to human transmission.
How is Coronavirus Transmitted?
Knowledge on how coronavirus is transmitted is still emerging. However, it’s primarily a respiratory disease, and the severity of infection ranges from persons with mild non-respiratory symptoms to severe or acute respiratory infection, sepsis with organ failure, or even death.
Current evidence indicates that coronavirus is mainly transmitted via respiratory droplets. Droplet transmission occurs when you’re within one meter of an infected person, and you gain exposure to infected respiratory droplets through talking, coughing, or sneezing resulting in the contamination of the mucous membranes in your mouth, nose or eyes.
Transmission may also occur when you touch surfaces with infected droplets. Therefore the transmission of coronavirus may occur directly through contact with an infected person or indirectly when you come into contact with contaminated surfaces.
Should I Wear a Face Mask To Protect Myself From Coronavirus?
A significant number of people who have coronavirus don’t exhibit any symptoms (asymptomatic). And eventually, those who are yet to develop symptoms (pre-symptomatic) can spread the virus.
The spread of coronavirus is primarily among people who are less than 6 feet apart through talking, coughing, or sneezing. This holds true even when none of these people exhibit symptoms such as shortness of breath, coughing, and fever.
A face mask not only protects you from coming into contact with infected droplets but also helps to protect people in your immediate environment if you happen to be infected with the virus.
Both medical and non-medical masks also help reinforce social distancing, good cough etiquette, and minimize touching of the face, which ultimately curbs the spread of the virus.
Supply of medical-grade masks for health care workers continues to be a priority. However, extra surgical masks, homemade masks, and other coverings provide adequate protection and cannot be compared to wearing nothing. It’s also important that you avoid wearing a mask with a valve that allows easy exhalation. This kind of valve facilitates droplet release, which can put people in your immediate environment at risk.
When Should You Wear a Face Mask?
- When you go out in public and especially when it’s difficult to maintain social distancing.
- If you are experiencing symptoms synonymous with a flu. It’s prudent that you wear a mask whenever you are around other people.
- If you’re seeking treatment for flu-like symptoms. You should also let healthcare workers attending to you know right away that you are experiencing these symptoms.
- If you’re a designated caregiver of someone suffering from coronavirus and are at a high risk of contracting the virus.
What are Some of The Myths Associated With Wearing Face Masks?
1. You Don’t Need To Wear a Mask If You Don’t Feel Sick
This was the advice given at the onset of the pandemic. However, after a lot research experts, today have more in-depth knowledge about coronavirus and how it’s spread. Today the recommendation from the CDC is that everyone, including people, who feel perfectly healthy, should always wear a face mask in public spaces where it can be difficult to maintain social distance from other people.
Face masks provide an added layer of protection and protect you from coming into contact with respiratory droplets that are emitted when an infected person talks, coughs, or sneezes. Masks are also quite instrumental in curbing the spread from asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic persons who unknowingly spread the virus to other people.
If you are sickly, you are advised to stay at home and avoid venturing out in the public. You should also wear a face mask when interacting with family members and caregivers.
2. Face Masks are a Substitute for Social Distancing
Wearing a face mask prevents you from spreading the virus, so you don’t have to worry about getting close to other people.
The CDC recommends that you wear a mask when you’re in public. But this is not a substitute for social distancing. Staying at least six feet away from other people is considered the most important measure for curbing the spread of the virus. This is because the virus primarily spreads via respiratory droplets, and most face masks may not have the capacity to filter out the minutest particles.
3. A Face Mask Can Make You More Susceptible to Covid 19
When you wear a face mask, you may have the urge to constantly adjust it and to touch your face more frequently.
It’s true that when you wear a mask, you may touch your face more often than normal, which may result in an increased risk of infection. However, you can reduce this by first being aware of the risk that it poses. Frequent washing and sanitizing of your hands is also critical as well as knowing how to properly don and remove your mask, taking care not to touch the front.
4. Any Mask You Can Find or Make Will Do
Some people think that anything that covers their nose or mouth regardless of how it’s made will keep them from contracting or spreading the virus.
Face masks and cloth coverings are simple to make and can be made from easily available materials. But to enhance effectiveness, it should be made from multiple layers or fabric or better still with a filter. The CDC offers guidelines for the making of masks with commonly available materials.
5. Wearing a Face Mask Can Make You Sick
Wearing a face mask causes accumulation of carbon dioxide, which can make it hard for you to breath and can make you sick.
You may have heard that wearing a face mask causes you to breathe carbon dioxide, which can cause shortness of breath, lightheadedness, dizziness, and headache. It is important to note that if you experience breathing problems or suffer from cardiovascular disease, it’s not prudent for you to wear a mask unless your doctor advises otherwise.
However, you may not be required to wear a face mask for long durations unless you’re a healthcare worker. You are, therefore, unlikely to experience anything more than a mild headache. It’s also important to note that if your mask gets damp from exhalation or due to humidity, it begins to lose its effectiveness and needs replacing.
6. Only a Respirator or N95 Mask Can Help You
There is a common belief that only a respirator or N95 mask can protect you from contracting the virus, while surgical and cloth masks only protect people in your immediate environment in case you have the virus.
A respirator or N95 mask is designed to block out even the minutest of particles but is mainly reserved for healthcare professionals. Surgical and cloth masks primarily block out large droplets. However, they all curb the spread of coronavirus and combined with social distancing and good hand hygiene, they have proved to be effective.
7. You Don’t Need To Wash Your Face Mask After Each Use
Most people find washing a face mask after each use time consuming and inconveniencing. So they tend to wear a mask several times before washing it.
However, this is quite risky and can cause contamination since viruses can stay on clothing for long durations. Experts, therefore advice that you should routinely wash your cloth masks and face coverings after every use.
You can launder them in a washing machine using the warmest appropriate setting for the material. If the material is too delicate, you can hand wash them and use bleach. To destroy any infectious agents, it’s recommended that you dry your masks on the highest setting or air dry them in direct sunlight.
Face Masks Effective in Stopping Community Transmission
No preventive measure can guarantee that you won’t be exposed to coronavirus. However, studies have shown that wearing a face mask practicing social distancing and frequent hand washing helps slow community-based transmission of coronavirus. It is imperative that everyone over the age of two years who has not been advised otherwise by their doctor wear a face mask in public. Even if you live in a community where wearing a mask is not mandatory, you can greatly reduce your chances of catching the virus by wearing one.
With the current Covid-19 pandemic wearing a face mask is a non-negotiable. You can buy face masks from your local pharmacy or make your own. But remember, the best face mask is one that offers you adequate protection and that you can wear comfortably and consistently.