Will a face mask reduce the chances of getting the Coronavirus?

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There appears to be differing advice as to the importance of wearing masks. We all know that masks are crucial if you are caring for someone with COVID-19 but what about for the elderly generally? There is no strong evidence to support the general public wearing face masks to protect against Covid-19, researchers have said, although they may offer some protection for the vulnerable or those living with somebody who is ill.

Many health authorities, previously discouraged the public from wearing masks to avoid COVID-19. However, emerging evidence has caused the World Health Organization, and the UK government to reconsider whether the public should wear masks.

Government position

Under the latest advice in the UK, the government has made a distinction between ‘face coverings’ and face masks. In April the government had said only those suffering from coronavirus symptoms or looking after someone with suspected COVID-19 should wear masks.  Now from the 10th May, they are advising the public to wear a face-covering in enclosed spaces where social distancing is not always possible.

Public Health England has said previously “Face masks must be worn correctly, changed frequently, removed properly, disposed of safely and used in combination with good universal hygiene behaviour in order for them to be effective”.

“Research also shows that compliance with these recommended behaviours reduces over time when wearing facemasks for prolonged periods.”

Should everyone wear masks?

So far, the official answer in the UK, for example, has been no on masks.  Irrespective of the effectiveness of mask use in the community, mass buying by the public has created a shortage for healthcare workers. This puts healthcare workers at risk of getting COVID-19.

But emerging evidence is changing the balance of potential harms and benefits. We know that people are infectious very early after becoming unwell. As evidence has shown wearing masks does reduce the risk of infected people spreading the infection to others and so the government is now advising the use of face-covering in certain situations.

There are various organisations that have begun to emerge supporting the use of face masks Masks4All  and several countries have now made it compulsory to do so.

There is enough evidence to endorse the use of face masks for short periods of time by vulnerable individuals when in transient higher risk situations – such as on public transport or visiting shops.

But with the current shortage of masks, we have to think carefully about who would benefit most from wearing them. Recent deaths in doctors and nurses remind us of the need to give these people priority.

“Although we can support vulnerable people who choose to wear masks to avoid infection, we want to remind everyone that the people who most need to wear masks, to protect us all, are healthcare workers.”

Wearing masks in public is most beneficial in situations where you can’t properly keep your distance from other people. Wearing masks on crowded public transport is likely to be beneficial – but won’t have any protective effect while walking through deserted streets or in the countryside.

Cloth masks and do they work?

A cloth face covering should cover your mouth and nose while allowing you to breathe comfortably. It can be as simple as a scarf or bandana that ties behind the head. Experts recommend using 100% cotton fabrics or a cotton blend. To make your own Face Covering follow the link. It won’t protect you from getting Covid-19, but it might help prevent you from spreading the virus.

Cloth masks have large pores and allow moist air circulation – which means cloth masks are less likely to stop virus-contaminated droplets from getting through.

How to use a face mask or cover?

To make sure your mask cover is sterile, you need to clean it properly. You also need to be careful how you put it on and take it off.

Putting on a mask.

1. Ensure you are using a clean mask.
2. Wash hands with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer
before touching the mask.
3. Pick up mask by touching ear loops (or ties) only.
4. Avoid touching the mask itself.
5. Hold both ear loops and place a loop around each ear.
6. Fit mask around mouth, nose, and chin.

While wearing a mask.

1. Mask should be either completely on or off; do notwear or rest under chin.
2. Never wear mask inside-out.
3. Remove mask if soiled or damp; do not reuse a singleuse mask.
4. Do not touch mask, face, or adjust mask while it is on.
5. If you touch mask, washhands with soap and water or hand sanitizer right away.
6. Always follow physical distancing and good hygiene practices.

Removing a mask

1. Grab ear loops only and lift the mask off ears.
2. Pull bottom of mask off and away from mouth and chin.
3. If you plan to reuse your mask right away, place it in a clean paper bag so it will not contaminate other surfaces. Otherwise, place it directly into your washing machine and follow the instructions below.
4. Do not touch mask, face, or adjust mask while it is on.
5. If it is a single-use mask, discard it directly into the bin.
6. Clean hands with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Home cleaning instructions for reusable cloth masks.

1. Wash the mask after use in your washing machine with HOT water using soap or detergent that leaves no residue.
2. Dry on HOT in your dryer.

Some Mask Rules

  • Do not buy and hoard medical masks. Health care professionals are already facing a great shortage in supplies, and we should not use protective masks that ill patients and health care workers may need.
  • Do not put a face mask on kids under 2 years old—or anyone who has difficulty breathing or might be unable to remove the mask themselves.
  • Do not remove a mask by its mouth area. Grab it by the straps. Wash your hands after touching it.
  • Do not just wear a standard bandana or scarf. Follow the instructions below to create a mask that has multiple layers and more tightly covers your face.

What should I do?

Social distancing and frequent hand washing remain the best ways to prevent viruses spreading between you and other people.

But experts have always maintained that, while the masks and face coverings may not shield someone from contracting the illness, they stop the wearer from infecting others.

This may have been more important than initially thought now that researchers know infected people are contagious for several days before they have symptoms.

The virus can be transmitted via droplets that are released when an infected person talks, breathes, coughs or sneezes.

If you choose to wear a mask, do not wear it for many hours – four or five hours at most each day. And only wear it when you are in contact with other people, and change it if it becomes damaged or dirty.

Masks/face coverings can become contaminated from use, not only by COVID-19 but by other bacteria and viruses, so they should be disposed of carefully, making sure to wash your hands afterwards. It’s also important to never share your mask with someone else for this reason.

Advice is changing daily on best practice for individuals to protect themselves from COVID-19, we recommend always referring to the latest Government Advice.