Everything You Need To Know About Masks
The novel coronavirus has really changed the way we live day to day and until a vaccine is available, we can expect that these changes may last a while. So how do we protect ourselves? By using protective equipment that health professionals have been successfully using for years. The only question is, how do we know what type of mask we need? What about telling the difference between quality compared to fakes. We're going to go over everything you need to know to keep yourself and loved ones safe!
What Does PPE Mean?
Let's start with the basics. PPE is the common acronym for Personal Protective Equipment. It is used to refer to garments or equipment specially designed to protect the wearer (previously mostly used by workers) from occupational hazards which include physical, chemical, mechanical, electrical, biological, and radiological hazards. The workplace is open to all forms of hazards and risks and therefore, it is vital that adequate protective measures are put in place.
Wearing protective gear that is well-fitting and properly maintained is a great way to prevent accidents and improve safety in the workplace. All employees should be adequately sensitized on the importance of adhering to PPE safety rules in the workplace. Some examples of PPE are hard hat (safety helmet), gloves, earplugs, face masks, goggles, work boots, etc. One major way to stop or at least reduce the spread of airborne viruses such as the Coronavirus is by wearing face masks by both healthy and infected people.
Most PPE protects the wearer and is completely ineffective if not worn properly or is defective in any way. It also restricts the wearer to a certain degree. If the PPE is defective, fake in any way, or isn’t worn properly, the wearer is at a greater risk of the hazard because it may give the wearer a false sense of confidence
During these times, PPE is rapidly becoming a must-have to protect yourself when having to be out and around others. Let's dive into the most common PPE we are seeing around, masks.
Disposable masks (also called medical, dental, surgical, laser, or procedure masks) are face masks used by medical personnel to prevent the spread of diseases. Face masks are able to protect the wearer to a certain degree if worn properly. Characteristics of face masks are that they are tight-fitting, and they cover the nose and mouth. They also have loops for the ears or come with ties or bands that go to the back of the head. They are many different types of face masks, made of different materials for different purposes.
Face masks help reduce the spread of germs and diseases. When a person who is sick talks, coughs, or sneezes, they are likely to release droplets that carry the disease-causing agent into the atmosphere which can infect others. By wearing a face mask, an infected person reduces the number of people they are likely to infect. Also, face masks protect the wearer from sprays of body fluids that are likely to carry disease-causing agents.
Types of Face Masks
- Surgical Masks (Medical Masks)
They are loose-fitting disposable masks that help protect the wearer from sprays or splashes of bodily fluid that may contain disease-causing germs. Surgical masks help filter the air and protect others too.
- N95 Masks/KN95
The N95 /KN95 mask is a type of respirator that offers more protection than the medical mask because it is able to filter out both big and small particles while the medical mask is only able to filter out big particles. The name includes 95 because it is able to block out 95% of small particles. They are also meant to be disposable.
- Cloth Masks
When surgical and N95 masks are unavailable, the next best thing is the cloth mask. Cloth masks protect others from the wearer, unlike the surgical and N95 masks that protect the wearer from others. Cloth masks are cheap and easy to make. They can be made from a variety of breathable materials such as tightly woven cotton. They can also be fashioned out of items such as t-shirts and bandanas but must be layered multiple times for best results. Also, because cloth masks offer little protection compared to medical masks and N95’s, there have to be additional safety procedures to follow.
Typically, there are three levels for determining the strength (its ability to resist the penetration of synthetic blood) of facial masks.
- Level 1 has low barrier protection and is used for medical exams and short procedures that do not involve sprays or fluids.
- Level 2 has moderate barrier protection and can be used where there is moderate spray or fluids.
- Level 3 has maximum barrier protection and is used for situations with heavy spray or fluid. The minimum resistant pressure of the level 3 mask is twice that of a level 1 mask.
How to Wear Medical Face Mask
Medical face masks are disposable, hence they should be used only once and thrown away. Also, when the face mask becomes moist, they should be thrown away. Always follow the instructions on the face mask packaging on how to wear them. Below are some guidelines to follow when wearing face masks:
- Wash your hands thoroughly prior to handling the face mask or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer to clean your hands.
- Take the mask from its packaging and inspect it for factory defects on any part.
- Identify the topside of the mask. The top is distinguishable by the flexible supple area that fits the structure of the nose.
- Identify the front and back of the mask.
N.B: There are two sides to the medical masks. One side is coloured, while the other side is white. The coloured part of the mask is the front, wear this facing outward while the white part will be in contact with your face.
- To wear face masks that have ties, bring the mask to your face at nose level and secure it with a bow at the back of your head. To wear face masks that have ear loops, bring your mask close to your face, using the ear loops, and then place each loop around ears.
- Mold the rigid sides of the mask around the shape of your nose.
- Draw the lower part of your mask over your mouth and chin to complete the protection.
How To Remove Medical Masks
Remember that once used, medical face masks are contaminated and should be disposed of immediately. Care should be taken when disposing of them to avoid contaminating yourself again. Some guidelines on removing medical masks are:
- Wash your hands with soap and running water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer to clean your hands.
- Do not touch the front of the mask as that is the part that has been contaminated. Hold the mask only by the ear loops or ties.
- When removing face masks that have ear loops, hold the mask by the ear loops and carefully remove them. Be careful not to let the mask or your hand touch your face. For masks with ties, untie the bow(s) and pull the mask away from your face.
- Throw the face mask in the bin and wash your hands with plenty of soap lather and water or use a hand sterilizer. Do not touch your face until you have washed your hands.
For people who wear glasses, it is not uncommon that while wearing a facial mask, their glasses get fogged up. This is because while breathing, the air would sometimes travel upwards causing the glass to form fog. There are also other factors that may cause your glass to get fogged up such as the weather, the fit of the mask on your face, and the quality of the mask. However, here are some tips to try when your glasses are fogging up while wearing facial masks:
- Adjust the fit of the mask. If your mask is too loose, it may leave room for your breath to escape upwards and cause your glasses to fog. Try tightening your mask strap at the bridge of your nose if it is the type with ties or finds a mask with a better fit.
- Adjust the position of the mask and glasses on your face. You may want to bring the mask a little lower down your nose but ensure it still covers a majority of your nose and your entire mouth. Then raise your glasses a little higher but avoid touching your face.
- Wash your glasses with soap and water. Allow them to air-dry to prevent fogging. This creates a layer of film that prevents fogging.
Testing Your Medical Mask
Due to a shortage of medical masks, there are now lots of fakes circulating in the markets. These fakes are unable to protect you because they are made using substandard products for the sole purpose of making a profit. Wearing a fake mask is as good as not wearing any at all. There are two major ways to test your face mask is real:
- Visual Test: Medical face masks are supposed to be 3-ply consisting of the inner layer, which is white, the middle layer which is a filter (not paper), and the outer layer which is usually green. To do the visual test, you need to cut open one side of the mask to confirm all layers are intact and correct.
- Water Test: The outer layer of the medical mask is meant to be waterproof to protect you against other people and bodily fluids carried through coughing and sneezing. To do the water test, fold the mask to form a funnel with the outer part and then pour some water in. The mask should be able to hold water properly.
- Breath Test: Medical masks hold the wearer's particles from spreading. Perform the breath test by grabbing a lighter and hold a flame far enough away from your face. Blow into the mask attempting to put the flame out. It should be harder to do so if the air is limited through a quality mask.
Donating Medical Supplies
The WHO is working with certain organizations to help in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. They have a list of organizations that are happy to receive donations from individuals and corporates. The list can be found here: https://www.who.int/medical_devices/management_use/donation_org_roles.pdf