Updated: May 12, 2020
Of recent, lock-down measures have been relaxed around the world to allow some economic activities to resume. With this modification, the use of nose masks has been made obligatory in many countries to help reduce the spread of COVID-19.
First, what type of masks should be used against the spread of COVID-19? Currently, WHO recommends only Medical/Surgical Masks and Respirators (such as FFP2, FFP3, N95, N99) for use towards an effective control of COVID-19. Medical masks are recommended considering that they are configured to have two levels of filtration with numerous fluid-resistance levels. Importantly, they have the capacity to reduce the transfer of saliva or respiratory droplets from the wearer to others and to the environment.
Do cloth masks have these features? Owing to the shortage of medical masks, there is an increased use of cloth masks in many African countries. Presently, there is no sufficient clinical evidence for or against the use of cloth masks for healthy individuals in a community, according to the WHO. However, recent research shows that cloth masks are extremely ineffective at preventing the virus from getting through into the nose and mouth.
Compared to medical masks, particle penetration is higher in cloth masks. In a recent study, about 97% and 44% of particles penetrated cloth masks and medical masks respectively. According to the European Centre for Disease Control, common cloth masks are less protective than medical masks and may even increase the risk of infection due to moisture, liquid diffusion and retention of the virus. Similarly, WHO warns that cloth masks could increase potential for COVID-19 to infect a person when the mask is contaminated by dirty hands and touched often, or when it is kept on other parts of the face and then placed back over the nose and mouth.
Although, the use of masks with no or unclear benefits, could create a false sense of security to the wearer, leading to less practice of recognized preventive measures such as physical distancing and hand hygiene. But due to the need for affordable and available face masks for everyday use, and to reserve scarce medical face masks respirators for healthcare providers, cloth masks are encouraged.
Wearers of cloth face masks should practice the following precautionary measures to further protect themselves:
Ensure your cloth face mask fits comfortably on your face, so you do not need to repeatedly touch your face to adjust it.
Ensure the cloth face fits well (lays flat) on the side of your face, such that there are no openings.
Include multiple layers of fabric in making the cloth mask (not less than 2 layers), but ensure it allows you breathe well.
When removing your mask, remove from the string that connects the mask to your ear, and do not touch other parts of the cloth mask.
Make sure you are able to wash your cloth masks regularly (daily or whenever used), without any shape change or damage to it.
After wash, dry your cloth face masks with heat in a hot dryer or with an iron.
After drying, store in a clean container or bag.
Cloth face coverings should not be placed on children under age 2, anyone who has trouble breathing, or anyone unable to remove the mask without assistance.
Practice all other forms of preventive measures while wearing any type of face mask:
Avoid touching your face as much as possible.
Clean hands with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer immediately, before putting on, after touching or adjusting, and after removing the face mask.
Don’t share your face masks with anyone else unless it’s washed and dried first.
You should be the only person handling your face covering.
Keep a safe distance from other people.
Article Credit: Ndianabasi Ime Tom (guest writer)