When it comes to any viral outbreak, including the coronavirus, the most important thing is to reduce the viral spread. Since many viruses cause coughing, sneezing, and pneumonia-like symptoms, people are turning to face masks to keep them safe. However, can masks actually protect you from viruses? The answer is...it depends.
What Are the Two Mask Types?
There are two medical-grade face masks used in clinical settings:
- N95 respirator masks
- Surgical masks
These are very tight-fitting face masks that keep out up to 95% of small particles, including viruses and bacteria. N95 respirators are only effective if they fit your face exactly. Since these masks are in universal short supply, they should only be worn by healthcare professionals working on COVID-19 wards right now.
Surgical masks are looser-fitting, disposable masks that protect you from larger droplets, sprays, and splashes. They're mainly designed to prevent the wearer from spreading germs to others, which is why you'll see dentists, doctors, and nurses wearing them.
Can I Make My Own Mask?
Homemade cloth face masks can be used to cover your nose and mouth when you're out in public or in settings where you can't socially distance, such as grocery stores. They're mainly designed to stop asymptomatic individuals from passing on COVID-19 and other viruses to people nearby.
Is It Worth Wearing a Mask for COVID-19?
It's only worth investing in surgical masks if you're caring for someone with COVID-19, or you know that you've been infected with the virus. They're not designed to protect people from catching the virus – the airborne particles are small enough to get through.
For most people, it's worth wearing a homemade cloth mask when:
- Going outside
- You have a cold or flu
- You're going anywhere there's a chance you'll be exposed to a sick person
These DIY masks may stop you from spreading germs around, and they'll also encourage you to stop touching your face.
Remember, though, that masks alone won't stop you from contracting COVID-19. You must sanitise your hands regularly – particularly before eating and after touching surfaces.
How Do I Wear My Mask Safely and Effectively?
Masks are only useful if they're worn correctly. Here's how to use your mask properly.
Wash Your Hands
Wash or sanitise your hands for 20-30 seconds before putting the mask on.
Putting the Mask On
- Check the mask for any defects.
- Pull the mask snugly over your nose, mouth, and chin.
- If your mask has a metallic strip, ensure that it's positioned against the bridge of your nose.
Adjusting Your Mask
Before securing your mask, you should:
- Check that it's moulded properly to your nose and cheeks
- Tighten any loose ties or bands
- Smooth hair away from the mask and your face
Taking the Mask Off
Take the mask off by:
- Sanitising your hands
- Carefully unhooking the ear loops or removing the bands
Don't touch the mask itself – it could be contaminated.
While surgical masks are single-use, DIY cloth masks are reusable so long as they're washed thoroughly and there's no damage to the mask face. It may be possible to reuse N95 respirators if they're undamaged, but it's not recommended.
While masks do offer some protection against COVID-19 and other viral infections, the most effective way to keep safe is to wash or sanitise your hands regularly. Keep a bottle of Your Sanitiser handy and protect your family from COVID-19 – find out more HERE.