All year round, we have been inundated by a plethora of information on health and safety measures that are related to the COVID-19 pandemic. From hand-washing techniques, to social/physical distancing regulations, it seems like there is a constant avalanche of information and theories on how to protect ourselves and others from contracting the dreaded Coronavirus, as we attempt to carry on with our day-to-day businesses and survive our new normal. The sources of information on what-to-do and what-not-to-do vary from reputable sources such as the World Health Organisation to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for the United States, and Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC); to the not-so-reputable sources like unverified tweets and WhatsApp broadcasts, with details on questionable and unscientific natural/alternative remedies, illustrated with shoddy images and graphics.
While this article is related to the correct ways to wear a mask, it would be remiss of me as a healthcare professional to not refer you to valid and evidence-based sources of information. Please always verify the information you read from any of the aforementioned international and national health organisations, to cross check whether that mixture of ginger, honey and garlic (as read from the unverified broadcast message) is indeed a recommended, preventative remedy for an airborne, respiratory disease, which has led to a global pandemic, of which a vaccine is still in development, and in the clinical trial phases by multinational pharmaceutical companies such as Pfizer, Moderna, BioNtech and Janssen. Until such a time that a vaccine is available, we can all play our parts in curbing the spread of the pandemic by adhering to the recommended protective measures, such as wearing protective masks and face coverings- not on our chins, mouths only, foreheads or just in hands, pockets and bags.
Just to reiterate, the primary purpose of wearing a mask which covers your nose and mouth is to protect others in case you’re infected with COVID-19, but do not have symptoms. A few more simple points to remember are:
Wear a mask in public settings when around people who don’t live in your household, especially when it may be difficult for you to stay six feet apart;
Don’t touch the mask, and, if you do, wash your hands or use hand sanitizer to disinfect;
Bandanas, gaiters or masks with exhalation valves as face coverings are not recommended;
Don’t remove the mask while around others in public;
Don’t share your mask with family members or friends.
(CDC & Johns Hopkins Medicine, 2020)
Face coverings and masks are now a legal requirement in many public places around the world, but it is not simply about possessing a mask, but it is about wearing the mask correctly to ensure maximum protection. Wearing a mask is quite the unnatural experience, and can be quite fiddly, especially in warm countries and for prolonged periods of time. So it is understandable that out of discomfort, one can slide it down to the chin, or pull it down slightly below the nose for air. However, while these adjustments are understandable, they are incorrect and do not serve as maximum protective barriers against contracting the disease or spreading it to others.
Face coverings and masks are only NOT recommended for individuals who have trouble breathing; individuals who are incapacitated and unable to remove it without help; individuals with special needs; and inidviduals who need to communicate with someone who has learning difficulties, is hard of hearing or deaf. In such cases, visors are recommended.
It has also been refreshing to see the wide range of creative and colourful reusable masks that are being produced and incorporated by fashion houses and brands. Reusable masks (with two or more layers) are the most cost-saving and environmentally friendly option. The United Nation Environment Programme (UNEP) estimates that 75% of used masks, as well as other pandemic-related waste, will end up in landfills, or floating in the seas. In addition to the environmental damage, the financial cost to the global tourism and fishery industries is approximately $40 billion.
So in summary, your mask should cover your nose AND mouth. If it isn’t doing both, then it is nothing at all.
Dr. Helen Zidon is the Deputy Head of Medical Information at Aspen Pharma Group, where she oversees the medical information functions of Aspen territories globally for multiple widely used pharmaceutical products. She is a public speaker and advocate for Global and Public Health, accessible and streamlined medical care, and the incorporation of Medical Technology in medical academia and medical practice.
Email address: [email protected]