Face masks and COVID-19

The use of masks when we are out and about in the community has been a hot topic of conversation lately as the rates of community transmission of COVID-19 appear to be increasing.

Bellingen doctor, Trevor Cheney, wrote recently on the i love bello shire website that understanding how to correctly wear masks is important.

"We need to be ready and prepared ... for when we receive the surge in community transmission," Dr Cheney said.

He recommended having a read of WHO information on facemasks ... to bring ourselves up to speed.

Another important point he made was that "someone who gets sick or is isolated must not be blamed for being sick or isolated".

Our own Department of Health offers this information about face masks:

A face mask is not a substitute for other precautions to prevent spread of COVID-19:

  • staying at home when unwell, with even mild respiratory symptoms
  • physical distancing (staying 1.5 m away from others)
  • hand hygiene (and avoidance of touching potentially contaminated surfaces)
  • cough etiquette and respiratory hygiene

Inappropriate use of masks is associated with risk

  • they provide a false sense of security and may result in neglect of more important measures
  • the use of a mask, alone, will not prevent infection
  • touching the mask during use or when removing it can contaminate the hands
  • risks are compounded if masks are pulled down or removed to consume food or drink

Single-use masks should not be reused, but discarded immediately after use

  • masks will be less effective if they become damp or damaged
  • many commercially available masks are of low quality and likely to be ineffective.

If you choose to wear a mask it is important to do so safely to avoid increasing the risk of infection to yourself and others.

Infographic from World Health Organisation website

Infographic from World Health Organisation website

How to put on a disposable face mask:

  • Wash your hands before putting on the mask
  • Make sure it covers your nose and mouth and fits snugly under your chin, over the bridge of your nose and against the sides of your face.
  • Do not touch the front of the mask while it is on or when removing it (and if you do so accidentally, wash or clean your hands immediately)
  • Wash your hands after removing the mask
  • People with chronic respiratory conditions should seek medical advice before using a mask

And a couple of mythbusters ...

FACT: People should NOT wear masks while exercising

People should NOT wear masks when exercising, as masks may reduce the ability to breathe comfortably.

Sweat can make the mask become wet more quickly which makes it difficult to breathe and promotes the growth of microorganisms. The important preventive measure during exercise is to maintain physical distance of at least one meter from others.

FACT: The prolonged use of medical masks* when properly worn, DOES NOT cause CO2 intoxication nor oxygen deficiency

The prolonged use of medical masks can be uncomfortable. However, it does not lead to CO2 intoxication nor oxygen deficiency. While wearing a medical mask, make sure it fits properly and that it is tight enough to allow you to breathe normally. Do not re-use a disposable mask and always change it as soon as it gets damp.

* Medical masks (also known as surgical masks) are flat or pleated; they are affixed to the head with straps or have ear loops.

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