Here's Everything You Should Know About Facemasks And How To Use Them
Are you wondering if homemade face masks are a good idea?
Overnight, facemasks have become a symbol of social responsibility. If you still need convincing, here’s why you now should be wearing a mask in public spaces to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Why facemasks matter for this coronavirus
First, this coronavirus is a new virus, which means our immune systems have never encountered it. It’s different from the flu, which most of us have some protection from. One of the biggest worries is that health workers have no protection from coronavirus.
The coronavirus is way more infectious than the flu; it has infected tens of thousands with cases of COVID-19 — in a matter of weeks.
Also, an estimated 25 per cent of people with coronavirus feel perfectly fine and don’t know they are infected. And guess what? You could very well be one of them! That’s why you should wear a mask to protect other people from your stealth germs.
Even a simple mask is very effective at trapping droplets from your coughs and sneezes. A recent study published in Nature from the University of Hong Kong and the University of Maryland asked 111 people, infected with various viral illnesses (influenza, rhinovirus and a more-mild coronavirus), to exhale into a giant funnel. Sometimes they didn't cover their noses and mouths; other times they used a simple, not-particularly-well-fitted mask.
Without the masks, the infected people exhaled contagious droplets and aerosols, tiny particles that linger in the air, about 30 per cent of the time they were tested. When the infected patients wore a mask, it blocked nearly 100 per cent of viral droplets and some of the aerosol particles.
“If we look at all the results together, we found that masks were able to stop most virus-laden respiratory droplets and some of the virus-laden aerosols,” said Ben Cowling, at the School of Public Health of the University of Hong Kong, and the study’s senior author.
How your facemask could protect you
While we know that even a simple mask does a pretty good job of protecting the world from your outgoing germs; experts say there is more to how much homemade masks might protect you from incoming germs; depending on the fit and quality of the material used.
But the thing is, you don’t need a super-efficient mask if you’re practising social distancing and washing your hands. And if you use a fabric with decent filtration potential; like two layers of heavy cotton or flannel — and you wear the mask properly; you increase your chances of avoiding the virus.
When you practice social distancing; wash your hands and wear a mask during those times when you must leave the house; you are lowering your risk for getting sick.
The Dos and Don’ts of Facemasks
To get the most out of your mask, make sure you wear it correctly and at the right time.
- Always wash your hands first.
- Don’t touch the fabric part of the mask — that’s essentially the germ filter, and you don’t want to spread whatever germs it has trapped.
- Use the ear loops or ties to secure your mask and to remove it.
- The coverage area should go from near the bridge of your nose to down under your chin; stretch about halfway or more toward your ears.
- Pull the ties and loops so that it fits as snugly as possible against your face. If your mask has pleats, the folded side should be down.
Children under 2 years of age should not wear masks. But older children often are vectors of contagious illnesses; so teaching them to wear a mask is a good idea.
Teaching a child to wear a mask, however, is easier said than done. Many children fear masks or just don’t like them. Keep working on it. You can try to win a child over with fun characters on the mask, rewards or games. You can also convince them by setting the example yourself. Try turning the mask into a craft project that they can wear proudly.
Mask or no mask, children should never go with you to the grocery store or to run essential errands during the pandemic.
Types of facemasks
N95 respirator masks: These masks fit tightly to the face and have the highest filtration efficiency, blocking 95 per cent of particles of 0.3 microns or larger. An N95 mask protects medical workers who come into contact with high doses of the virus while visiting and carrying out medical procedures on multiple patients.
Medical masks: These are also in short supply and should be used only by medical workers. Sometimes called surgical masks or procedure masks, these facemasks are those rectangular shaped coverings (often pleated) that come with elastic ear loops. A medical facemask filters about 60 to 80 per cent of particles.
Homemade fabric masks: The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention recommends we cover our faces with a scarf; or homemade fabric mask when we are in public. The effectiveness of homemade facemasks varies depending on the fabric used, the style and the fit.
Now that you’ve got a mask, you need to take care of it. Here’s some advice about washing and reusing your mask.
Medical masks and N95 masks should be saved for medical workers; but if you have a medical mask, you should know that it was designed for one-time use. Washing or sanitizing a medical mask will degrade it, making it less effective.
It’s much easier to clean a fabric mask than a medical mask. The C.D.C. says fabric masks should be “washed routinely.” Masks experts recommend washing it daily in a machine or a sink, just using regular laundry soap. You can use the dryer or let it air dry. Although it’s not necessary, you can also go over it with a hot iron for a full assault on any germs that might remain.
Just as with a medical mask, chemicals like bleach or hydrogen peroxide will degrade the fabric fibre; making the facemasks less effective. A virus can’t replicate outside the body, and if virus particles were trapped in the mask, they are pretty well stuck there and will decay or die during washing.