We tell you all you should know about whether you should wear a face mask

No one really knows for definite if, as a normal citizen, you should wear a face mask or not, and if so, when you should wear one.

The American Centre for Disease Control (CDC) recommends people wear face coverings in public, pharmacies and when out shopping; that is when you are not self-isolating at home.

Other countries have also introduced different rules for wearing face masks. In Germany they are mandatory if you want to use public transport and in Austria you have to wear a face mask if you want to go shopping at the supermarkets or a pharmacy.

Residents of Lombardy, Italy have been told to cover their noses and mouths when not in doors, and the French government will distribute masks to the general public. Canadian airline passengers have been told they must wear non-medical masks or face coverings when they are flying.

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What does the World Health Organization say about people wearing face masks?

The World Health Organization (WHO) advises that there are currently only two groups of people should wear protective masks. These are:

  • The sick and those showing symptoms
  • Those caring for people who are suspected to have coronavirus or showing the symptoms of Coronavirus.

Due to the global shortage of N95 face masks and their inefficiency if used incorrectly. It says medical masks should be reserved for healthcare workers.

WHO says countries need to weigh the overall risks and benefits when advising the public to wear face coverings and masks. 

The European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention agrees with the WHO that medical masks should be prioritized for healthcare professionals and those in direct contact with people infected or possibly infected with Coronavirus.

However, it also says that non-surgical facial masks can help prevent the spread of coronaviruses by contagious but asymptomatic people (known as subclinical infections).

Scientists in Singapore have suggested that infected people are particularly at risk of infecting others 24-48 hours before they realize that they may be ill.

This is because Coronavirus is spread by droplets that can be sprayed into the air when infected people, cough or sneeze. These can directly enter the body through the eyes, nose or mouth or after someone touches a contaminated object and then touches their face before washing their hands

What about homemade face masks?

If you are advised to wear handmade masks, there are many online tips on how to create them.

Suggestions include using common household items such as cotton fabrics on old T-shirts and bedding.

However, homemade masks are not regulated, but officially made masks must meet safety requirements.

European consultants say that reusable cloth masks are not recommended and may even increase the likelihood of infection. This is because viral particles are more likely to pass through the tissue and the water inside them is likely to carry the virus.

The European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention say that the coverage on the surface of the fabric should:

  • Fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face
  • Be secured with ties or ear loops
  • Include multiple layers of fabric
  • Allow for breathing without restriction
  • Be able to be laundered and machine dried without damage or change to shape

Wrap up

In summary, like everything else to do with Coronavirus, when it comes to whether you should wear a face mask, no one knows for definite, or is willing to give a definitive answer. 

What they do agree on though is that some sort of face covering is beneficial if you are out in public and cannot keep your social distance, masks can reduce the chance of people who are infectious from coughing or sneezing over someone else and spreading the disease that way.

Some quick answers to your questions on whether to wear a face mask and how to look after them.

Do surgical masks prevent flu?

There is some evidence that the correct use of face masks can slow down the spread of viruses in the air. If you are sick and need to be with other people, wearing a surgical mask correctly can prevent others from contracting the disease. Face masks help reduce the spread of flu and other respiratory viruses, but only if worn correctly and often.

Can n95 masks be washed?

An N95 mask cannot be washed, cleaned or disinfected.

How do you sterilize a face mask?

If the mask is wet, dirty, deformed or the filter is broken inside, discard the mask. The deformed mask may not fit properly. If it is not wet, dirty or deformed, use a dishwashing solution and a gentle mask wash with warm, soapy water to clean and disinfect the mask. Rinse with clean water and immerse the entire body of the mask in 1/4 cup per gallon of unscented liquid chlorine bleach liquid disinfectant.

Which side of a surgical mask faces out?

Make sure the outside (usually yellow, green or blue) of the mask is facing out away from your face. The white surface contains the filter. Place the mask on the face with the blue side facing out and the folding end of the nose at the top. If the mask has ear-rings or loops, place a ring around each ear.

Should you wear a mask when sick?

Yes. The best evidence suggests that wearing a mask when you are sick helps prevent others from getting sick. And hopefully, wearing a mask around a sick person will likely reduce the chances of you getting infected.

How do you wear a face mask with glasses?

Just before putting on a face mask, wash your glasses with soap and water and shake off any excess. Then air dry the glasses or lightly dry the lenses with a soft cloth before putting them on. Now the lens should not cloud over when wearing a mask.

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