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Masks and Covid-19

Throughout history there has been a fascination with masks.  Part of legend, literature and now Covid-19, masks have become part of the new normal. 

From the purely functional to the personalised - masks are the subject on everyone’s lips. Not without some controversy particularly as seen in overseas situations where people have rebelled against wearing them.  In some cases, with devastating effect. 

If using masks (or some other protective device) there are four main principles to remember.

  1. The main reason is to keep the wearer safe from breathing in the virus—be it a cold, ‘flu or specifically the Covid-19 virus.
  2. Wearing a mask, in turn, protects others from the wearer’s own and unknown virus.
  3. The mask must fit firmly and fully cover the wearer’s nose and mouth to prevent the spread of ‘spit particles’ that can travel more than 2 meters when talking, laughing, coughing, and sneezing.
  4. Ironically, removing the mask is when the wearer is a potentially the highest risk of infection. Bearing in mind the outside of the mask is where the virus is most likely to be ‘in residence’.  Removing the mask without touching the outside is essential…and easy.  It is a matter of unhooking or untying the device, folding it inwards and immediately ‘dispose’ of the device.  Whether it is a mask destined for the rubbish bin or removing a cloth mask from the face, putting it safely into a plastic bag, and then washing it later.

In all situations, washing your hands (or using hand sanitiser) immediately before and after any mask ‘encounter’ is essential. 

The makings of a great mask   

Like everything else in what is being termed the ‘new normal’  there are no clear answers on the efficacy, and efficiency, of using masks to deal with the virus. Wearing a mask is not a ‘silver bullet’ solution to keeping viruses away from your world and bubble. 

The use of any protective device covering your nose and mouth needs to be part of an overall integrated approach. University of Auckland associate professor and microbiologist Dr Siouxie Wiles explains: “Face masks complement the main public health measures of good hand hygiene, physical distancing, managed or self-isolation or quarantine as well as staying home when sick.” 

“The countries that effectively used masks as part of their containment policies did other things including acting swift, hard and fast in containment; intense testing; contract tracing and even quarantine.” 

How facemasks are used is also vital. If not used property there is a danger of putting yourself at even greater risk. This is particularly the case with people who already have breathing problems or issues. Discussing the best option with your doctor or health professional can both provide peace of mind and a solution that is safe and sustainable. 

When buying or creating, your mask the first thing you need to decide is what sort you want. Surgical masks and even heavy industrial grade masks are the most effective but in many countries these are  reserved for those who need them to protect against risks in their workplace.

You can still buy, or make, non-medical disposable face coverings, reusable cloth coverings, or even items like scarves and bandanas.  It is a matter of what is available, what is affordable, what feels and fits most comfortably, and understanding the pros and cons of wearing them. 

What is crystal clear is that with any further outbreaks of COVID-19 face masks will be an important component of containment and avoiding further lockdowns.