Do you need to wear a facemask?
Updated: Apr 30
(This blog post has been updated on 30/4/2020 due to new developments. Italicized and underlined text indicates outdated information.)
As the coronavirus pandemic continues to grip the world and we in Australia are living in social lockdown, there are many elements of our weeks and lifestyles that have needed to change and adapt; no more social gatherings, no sporting events, and no eating out.
But one non-compulsory change which seems to have people a bit confused is face masks. Should we wear them? When should we wear them? Are they really effective at limiting the spread of coronavirus?
In this article, we’re going to look at the circumstances where you should be using facemasks, as well as the proper method of putting them on.
Should I wear a facemask whenever I leave the house?
The short answer is...... probably. As the government plans to ease restrictions, and we anticipate mixing with more people again in the course of our daily interaction, there is an increased likelihood that we will come into contact with other people who have early COVID 19 infection and are not particularly unwell. Wearing a mask may or may not protect you if they happen to cough in your vicinity. But if you are in the vicinity of such a person, you really want them to be wearing a mask, so that if they cough or sneeze they don't spread droplets around. There is growing evidence that wearing a mask, even a home-made fabric mask, can greatly reduce the chance of infected people spreading the SarsCoV2 virus around. Our perspective at Manse is that we want everybody who is out and about in our community and who may have early or asymptomatic COVID 19 to be wearing a mask. And the only way to ensure this is to make sure that mask wearing becomes the thing to do. If we are all wearing masks then we can have a higher level of confidence that the people who need to wear them - ie people who might unwittingly spread the virus - are wearing them. This is very similar to the situation with seat-belt wearing in the late 1960s in Victoria. To make sure that seat-belts worked when they were needed to reduce injury, it had to become socially acceptable for people to wear seat-belts in cars all of the time. That change required a government mandate, and it may be the same with masks in the current crisis. So should you wear a mask? As restrictions ease, and as mask supply increases, we probably all need to start wearing masks.
(The short answer is no. And there are two main reasons for this. Firstly, wearing a face mask when you aren’t taking other precautions like hand-washing and not touching your face, is effectively useless. And so long as you are taking those precautions, there isn’t any need to use a mask. The masks can give people a false sense of security, meaning they flaunt other necessary precautions and actually increase their risk of getting the disease. Unless you’re in close proximity to people with COVID-19 (like a loved one or working at a hospital), there are no real reasons for you to catch the disease by merely breathing.
Secondly, the overuse of facemasks by the general public means limited access for those who actually need them. If members of the public end up buying and wearing too many facemasks unnecessarily, it could mean that doctors and nurses are forced to go without. Unless you actually need them, don’t buy them.)
When should I wear a facemask?
While the previous advice about wearing a mask when looking after sick people (both at home and as a medical professional) still stands, we now encourage everyone to wear a mask whenever you're going to be in a situation where you might breathe in air someone else has recently breathed out.
This includes, but is not limited to:
By doing this, and helping to limit the spread of the virus, the government will be able to ease the lockdown sooner so that we can all begin to return to "normal" life.
If you’re not a working medical professional, there are really only two situations where you should be wearing a facemask; if you are healthy, but you are taking care of someone with COVID-19, or if you yourself are sick. When you are in constant, close contact with someone who is sick, the risk of viral transmission through the air is a tangible one. This is why both parties should be wearing masks to limit spread as much as possible.
This also goes for sick people who are still going about their daily lives, not just those in care. Because while a face mask won’t necessarily stop you from coming into contact with the disease, it will almost surely stop you from being able to spread it.
How should I wear a facemask?
The following instructions come from the World Health Organisation. If you’re in a situation where you need to wear a facemask, here’s what you should do:
Before putting on a mask, clean hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
Cover mouth and nose with mask and make sure there are no gaps between your face and the mask.
Avoid touching the mask while using it; if you do, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
Replace the mask with a new one as soon as it is damp and do not re-use single-use masks.
To remove the mask: remove it from behind (do not touch the front of the mask); discard immediately in a closed bin; clean hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
We understand that this is a difficult time for a great many people. If your mental health is really suffering, please reach out and get some help. Beyond Blue has a dedicated support service for this exact situation, so find out more by clicking here, or just calling them on 1800 512 348
The latest government information about restrictions and financial help can be found here.
If you have any concerns yourself about coronavirus or your respiratory health, you can get in touch with us to book a no fee telehealth appointment with our respiratory specialists.
Breathe Well - Live Well
This article is from Keystone Medical Media, a sub-entity of Keystone Content.