Do we really have to wear face masks?
The answer is yes. The guidelines state that unless you are someone who is disabled or you have underlying health conditions that prevent you from doing so, you must. An exemption badge is available for those who feel much more comfortable wearing something that says you don’t need to wear one, but it is mostly a personal choice.
Young children and those who have a disability or breathing difficulties are exempt from the new mandate that says everyone in England, Northern Ireland and Scotland need to wear something covering their face.
Along with this, anyone visiting the hospital needs to wear them, as well.
Does it matter what kind of mask you wear?
The answer is yes. There are different types of masks and they each offer their own unique level of protection. For instance, N95 respirators that are surgical-grade offer the highest level of protection against transmission of the virus. The next in line would be masks that are surgical-grade. However, these types of masks are not only expensive, but they are limited in availability. They also are not environmentally friendly and they can be very uncomfortable to wear for significant periods of time. Therefore, even in the countries that have mandated masks, they recommended these masks are left to the professionals who are at the highest level of risk.
While the evidence on how effective single-use paper masks and/or reusable cloth coverings isn’t fully there, there is enough that implies it can contribute to effectively reducing the transmission of the virus. The analysis conducted by the Royal Society noted that this analysis did, in fact, include homemade cloth masks.
While there is a lot of evidence that is still cropping up, there appears to be an obvious benefit. However, the evidence pointing to what properties make the best preventative mask are still unclear. While in theory, a tighter fitting mask is likely to be better, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has suggested that any face covering is worth using.
A single US study looked at some of the common household materials to see which one was able to best remove particles anywhere from 0.3 to 1.0 microns in diameter, it determined that heavy cotton or multiple layers of material were the best. This is an important finding because that is the common size of both viruses and bacteria. While bandannas and scarves were found to be less effective, they were able to capture some of the particles which makes them better than nothing.
How do you put the mask on and take them off safely?
Prior to putting on your mask, you want to clean your hands with hand sanitiser or soap and warm water. From there, you should cover your mouth and nose with your mask while being certain there are no gaps present between your mask and your face. While using it, avoid touching the mask and if you do touch it, always wash your hands. If and when your mask gets wet, replace it. In order to remove it, you want to use the elastic string. Do so without touching the front of the mask and immediately throw it away in a closed bin. If the mask is a reusable one, simply toss it in the washing machine right away.
How often should you wash masks?
The Centers for Disease Control recommends that you wash your masks “routinely.” Ideally, you should be washing them after each subsequent use.
Is there a concern for the environment?
A lot of the masks that are commercially available are made up of various layers of plastic. These masks are primarily designed to be single-use masks. According to scientists at University College London, if everyone in the UK used these single-use masks once per day for an entire year, there would be an extra 66,000 tonnes of contaminated plastic waste created by the population. Thus, using reusable face masks can help to minimise the amount of plastic waste created and it can help to reduce the impact mask use can have on climate change according to Professor Mark Miodownik from UCL’s team. According to the best evidence available, reusable masks offer most of the benefits of single-use masks without the negative environmental impact.