Just over a month after people in Scotland became obligated to wear face masks in public places, Cumbernauld Community Health Information Hub takes a closer look at the situation with face masks and offers some key advice on wearing them safely and effectively.
For the majority of citizens, the last few weeks will have been the first time that they have had to wear face masks. The requirement of wearing face masks in shops and on public transport has been implemented in a bid to reduce the transmission of coronavirus (COVID-19) as the country seeks to cautiously exit lockdown.
In the context of the coronavirus pandemic, a face mask is a means of reducing the propensity of someone who has COVID-19 spreading it to others. The primary benefit is not actually to the person wearing the mask, but to others around them who have less risk of receiving germs from the mask-wearer.
Wearing a mask is effective because it catches droplets that come out of a person’s mouth before they can get into the atmosphere, where they can dry out, become very small and float around as an aerosol. Some particles will still be released whilst wearing a mask, but the volume spread is significantly reduced.
Along with regular handwashing and social distancing, mask-wearing is just one measure to try to contain COVID-19. It seems particularly useful for stopping people who have unwittingly contracted the virus but are not showing symptoms from spreading the infection. Of course, those who do have symptoms should be self-isolating, and as a result not going out into public places wearing a mask.
With the firm stance on wearing masks coming at an advanced stage of the pandemic, there is understandably still some confusion over this ‘new normal’. As such, Cumbernauld Community Health Information Hub has researched what the experts say about face masks and subsequently offers the below tips and advice for local people.
KEY TIPS FOR CUMBERNAULD CITIZENS REGARDING THE WEARING OF FACE MASKS
1. Choose a Mask That Offers Best Protection
Whilst N95 respirator masks offer the best protection, these are not in mass supply and are generally preserved for those working in medical settings. They are effective because they fit tightly around the face and filter out at least 95% of the smallest particles in the air.
For the general population, one fairly good option is a disposable surgical mask. These are often blue with white borders, and fit loosely across a person’s nose and mouth. They shield against large droplets that come from a sick person’s cough or sneeze, although they are too loose to protect from all germs. These can be purchased from many online retailers, shops and pharmacies.
Another good option is a cloth mask. Ready-made cloth masks can be purchased, but there are also tutorials online demonstrating how to make your own. Nearly any kind of face-covering is effective to some degree at blocking droplets coming out of your mouth.
2. Ensure Your Mask Covers Mouth, Nose and Chin
It might sound obvious but it’s imperative that a face mask should cover your mouth, nose and chin at all times whilst wearing. If any part of your nostrils or mouth is exposed, the effectiveness of the mask is nullified.
That’s why putting a mask on in a hurry or as an after-thought is not recommended. This can lead to fundamental mistakes. Always take time to check you have your mask on correctly before proceeding into public spaces.
3. Wear Masks Indoors and in Crowded Situations
The most important places to wear face masks are indoors and where lots of people are enclosed, especially in places where people are speaking loudly, shouting or singing. As outlined, it is now law to wear face-coverings in shops and on public transport, but it is also prudent to wear them in other inside venues where people are gathered.
The risk of transmitting the virus when outside is low, so wearing a face mask outdoors is not as essential. Nevertheless, it is still advisable to wear masks outdoors when amongst large crowds.
4. Wear Disposable Masks Once Only and Wash Reusable Masks
Disposable masks are designed to be worn once only. They can sometimes be less effective than a cloth mask for that reason, although if neatly fitted they can be a good choice. Cloth masks, on the other hand, have more absorbent materials and can be reused as many times as you like. It is important, however, that reusable masks are washed at 60C after every use.
Some disposable masks come with an expiry date. It’s wise not to use masks beyond their expiry date, although it may be fine for a short period in low-risk circumstances if no other mask is available.
5. Follow a Hygienic Process Before Touching Your Mask
It’s advisable to wash your hands before you put a face mask on. If it’s a surgical mask or another mask with straps, only touch the straps and try to avoid touching the mask area when fitting. The same process should be followed when removing and disposing of the mask.
In this respect, the good news is that surface transmission of COVID-19 through cloth appears to be very low. However, the risk becomes even lower when sticking to this hygienic procedure
6. Store Masks in a Clean, Dry Place
Even if the chance of picking up an infection from your mask is low, it’s essential to keep it as clean as possible before wearing it. After all, wearing a dirty face-covering is not going to be particularly pleasant.
One idea is to keep masks in a zip-up storage bag or a toiletry holdall. This will ensure that no outside particles can interfere with your masks.
7. Change Your Mask if it Becomes Damp or Dirty
In most instances, one mask a day should be sufficient for the majority of people. However, if you’re doing physical work and getting hot and sweaty, your mask could become damp or dirty. Once in this condition, it’s not going to be as effective, and it makes sense to change it. A damp mask can also cause face irritation.
The likelihood of a mask becoming damp or dirty depends on its material. A thick mask or scarf will become damp more quickly than others.
8. Never Share Masks Unless Thoroughly Washed
Although you should never casually share or pass your mask for another person to wear, households can share masks safely on the condition that the mask is washed to 60C in between uses. Disposable masks should not be shared under any circumstances, and always put in the bin after use.
9. Be Aware That a Scarf is Not as Effective as a Face Mask
It might seem logical to think that wearing a scarf is just as effective as wearing a customised face mask. This is not the case, however, as the fabric may be too thin or, if it’s a chunkier scarf, it can be difficult to get several comfortable layers out of it.
Furthermore, recent research indicated that wearing bandanas or scarves are not very good as face-coverings because the fabric has a lot of holes in it. However, if you find yourself in a position where you do not have a face mask, wearing a scarf is better than wearing no face-covering at all.
10. Use Targeted Approaches to Get Children to Wear Masks
If you’re a parent, one of the biggest challenges you might be facing is getting your child to wear a face mask. There are some different approaches that can be used to help overcome this.
You could, for example, present wearing a mask as something that’s fun and exciting, and let your child pick between different coloured masks or buy a mask with a special design. With older children, taking the time to carefully explain the reasons why it’s so important to wear a mask is often effective. This could be underlined using meaningful examples, such as highlighting the fact that not wearing a mask could make gran or grandpa become sick.
11. Take Steps to Prevent Your Glasses from Steaming Up
If you wear glasses, you’ve probably already found out how easily they can steam up when wearing a face mask. One tip to prevent this is to submerge your glasses in soapy water and then let them dry by themselves. This creates a thin anti-fog layer on the lenses.
Alternatively, you could seek a mask that has a tighter fit around the nose so that less air comes out. Sometimes wearing glasses a bit lower over the nose can also help.
12. Don’t Wear a Mask if You Have Been Medically Advised Not To
There are exemptions to wearing a face mask for people with certain health conditions or disabilities and people who assist them. Very young children are also exempt from wearing face-coverings.
For instance, if you are travelling with someone who relies on lip-reading, you are not required to wear a mask. Some lip-readers have benefited from those around them wearing transparent masks.
Try not to jump to conclusions about people who are not wearing masks in shops or on public transport. They may have a legitimate medical or caring exemption.
For further advice on how and when to use face masks, including video tutorials, visit World Health Organization (WHO)’s face mask information portal. Latest updates from NHS Lanarkshire in relation to COVID-19 can be obtained by clicking here.
Despite the easing of some lockdown restrictions, Cornerstone House Centre continues to operate Cumbernauld CHaT (Community Help and Talk) Service at this time.
If you or someone you know in Greater Cumbernauld needs help, advice or simply someone to talk to as a result of the coronavirus pandemic (including any advice regarding face masks), please contact Cumbernauld CHaT Service on 07940 569527 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.