Do You Know That Wearing Face Mask Makes You Most Vulnerable To Coronavirus Infection?

Before you lose your cool and conclude that this is one in the series of misinformation on coronavirus (COVID-19) scare flying around, please read in-between the lines. What you’re about to read is what you already know just that it has probably not been emphasized this way to you. This information is everywhere online just that you’ve not taken time to read in-between the lines. You should ask yourself one basic question: since the coronavirus outbreak, has any government anywhere in the world encouraged members of the public to use of face masks as a form of prevention from getting infected with the virus? The answer is none. In fact, in the United States of America, both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Department of Health and Human Services categorically state that members of the public do not need face masks to prevent respiratory illnesses (which includes coronavirus infection). The only time you hear health officials mentioning face mask mainly when they want to condemn the hike in price of the item, condemn panic buying or inform the public that they do not need to worry about face makss if they’re not already infected with the virus or they’re not health officials taken care of coronavirus victims.

This shows that the rush or panic buying of face masks is ill conceived. The ridiculous fact is that the surgical masks which are the ones most commonly found in the market which Nigerians are actually buying off shelves at exorbitant rate are not even the ones recommended for use by health officials who are the actual people that need face masks in times like this.

There is a special mask against respiratory illnesses called N95 mask which is tighter than the surgical mask. Yet you can’t wear this particular mask for more than 30 minutes before you start feeling uncomfortable, probably because you can’t breathe. So how can you wear such for up to 8 hours in a day? A more specialized mask, known as an N95 respirator, can protect against the new coronavirus, also called 2019-nCoV. The respirator is thicker than a surgical mask, yet health experts don’t recommend its use as preventive measure to coronavirus infection.

CBS news writes that a type called an N95 respirator mask, if properly fitted, can block large-particle droplets that may contain germs, but health officials warn that they cannot filter out “very small particles in the air that may be transmitted by coughs [or] sneezes.” Officials also say “an N95 mask is the one that is most practical,” as it “stops 95% of particles of a certain size. … There is a N99 mask, which blocks 99% of particles, but that mask is difficult to wear for long periods of time because it is hard to breathe through it.”

N95 Face Mask

The surgical mask you are buying in the market are not required in preventing coronavirus infection. In fact, they make matters worse for you. “How is that” you may ask? Now here is how you make matters worse by walking around town wearing using face mask.

The Scourge: A little background

The fear of coronavirus is beginning to grip many nations across the world. While the Western world is battling an identified new strain of the virus called the Wuhan Coronavirus, many in developing nations, including Nigeria are basically sure that the disease is deadly; aside that, they know nothing else about it. The virus which began by circulating around Wuhan, China, since December 2019, has since moved to other parts of the world, now in about 50 countries. It has infected thousands of people, and has disrupted plans for everything from major sports tournaments and other events around the world. The global death toll is now over 2,800, and the disease has made disturbing appearance in sub-Saharan Africa, beginning with Algeria and Nigeria. Though a number of infected persons have recovered, fast-growing outbreaks in South Korea, Italy and Iran — along with the first case confirmed in Nigeria — show the battle to contain the virus is still in its early stages. The challenge now is that people are drowning in the ocean of misinformation and ignorance even without realizing that.

The Scare: Face mask sham

With the coronavirus panic rising daily, many people are clamoring to buy face masks in an effort to protect themselves, sending prices soaring. However, experts say stocking up on face masks is actually misguided — and there’s a much simpler thing you could be doing right now to protect yourself. Certainly not buying face mask.

When you see someone putting on a face mask, the first thing that comes to you mind is coronavirus or that this person is safe from coronavirus infection. In fact, the face mask seems to be the most valuable item in the market as it is becoming synonymous with protection against corona virus. With the arrival of the dreaded virus in Nigeria as announced on the 28th of February by the Federal Ministry of Health, those who had face mask sent the prices of the item to the skies and smiled to the bank. Lagos State Commissioner for Health, Professor Akin Abayomi, recently visited the Italian man who was first diagnosed with coronavirus infection in Nigeria. Pictures emerged online showing Prof. Abayomi at the health facility where the Italian was kept. Prof. Abayomi was not wearing a face mask and many condemned him online, wondering what kind of officials we had in the country. Such people believe that if you’re wearing face mask you’re in trouble, without actually understanding the entire safety checks against coronavirus infection.

It will shock you to know that face mask is the least effective in preventing coronavirus infection. In fact, if it shocks you it means you have not read in-between the lines while going through the numerous preventive measures sent across the country through every medium on how you can stay safe from coronavirus infection. Those who bought the face mask at cut-throat prices just packaged an indirect gift to the sellers; or they were being good because what the face mask does is actually to prevent you from infecting others with the virus not really to prevent you from contracting it from others.

Firstly, most people wear face mask because they think coronavirus is airborne. There is no research evidence proving coronavirus is airborne. Except when you are close to someone who is infected already and the person coughs or sneezes then droplets (called respiratory droplets) land on your face (especially mouth or nose) or possibly inhaled. This is mainly when you are in close contact with infected person (about 6 feet close). It is called person-to-person contact and it is the main form of transmission. So if you’re wearing face mask more than six feet away from an infected person you won’t be infected because it is not an airborne disease.

You may ask, how do I know the person I’m going to meet in a bus or at work doesn’t have it? Well, the surgical mask you wear can annually do nothing for you, just make sure you keep a social distance. Even when you were the mask near an infected person and the person coughs, you are likely to still inhale the virus through the droplets because the surgical mask is not tightly fitted to your face. There are still spaces by the side and you can still breathe through the mask, don’t forget that. The solution to this is you should stay about six feet away from people in public.

Okay check out other forms of transmission and ask yourself what face mask can do in these other instances; Contact with infected surfaces or objects; It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes. Even when you wear the mask you still touch your face from time to time, even wipe your eyes or put your fingers through the mask to pick your nose.

Health experts at Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health, Dr. Andrew Stanley Pekosz, explains that “the data on the effectiveness of masks for preventing respiratory virus infections is not very clear. The best data suggests that if you are ill and showing symptoms, wearing a mask can reduce the chances that you spread the virus to others.”

Another health expert says instead of wearing face masks, the general public should “be vigilant to the symptoms and signs of this novel coronavirus, that is, a fever and cough, and if you have those symptoms, please call your health-care provider,”

Health experts argue that use of face mask for preventing coronavirus is not evidence-based and appropriate, adding that there is no justification for the use of face masks for people who have not been directly exposed to the virus.

The right time to wear the face mask is if you are already coughing and showing symptoms of possible coronavirus illness; that’s when wearing a mask could be helpful for protecting those around you. But this is not why most people are buying it presently.

The Truth: Face mask makes you more vulnerable   

Here are basic reasons why the face mask makes you more vulnerable to getting infected with the coronavirus. Just note that with the way this face mask sham is going, it is clear that those who believe in wearing face mask as a form of prevention are more likely to get infected with the virus than those who adhere to the main measures recommended by health officials – washing your hands with soap and water as often as possible, keeping social distance, using hand sanitizers, among others.

Reasons why use of face mask makes you more vulnerable to coronavirus infection

1. Face makes you drop your guard by giving you a sense of a false sense of security. This is the number one reason why you end up most vulnerable when you wear face mask. If there are basic precautions you’re supposed to take such as keeping social distance (staying 6 feet away from people) you ignore this because you’re wearing a face mask. Even when you get home you might feel lazy to wash your hands and say to yourself “after all I’ve been wearing face mask since morning.”

2. You often come in contact with germs when they lift the face mask up to eat or slip your fingers under the mask to blow your nose.

3. Even when you wear a face mask you’re still going to be touching your face, which is the number way you’re going to get disease. Your unclean hands which you may have used to touch contaminated surfaces will still get to your face somehow if you’re not careful.

4. Face mask has a life span. It is actually a disposable single-use item. So when you use one and keep it for the next day you are making matters worse for yourself. While there are some with longer life span or that have replaceable filters, the most common face masks on the market are disposable and single use. Each face mask is only good for a few hours. When you breathe or talk while wearing them they get wet, moist or damp, collect all manner of germs and become useless.

5. The common face mask in the market (surgical mask) is not tight fitting so you still get exposed to the infection if you wear them. This means that you will have a false sense of protection by getting close to anybody anyhow while the person not wearing the mask will keep a social distance and be very safe.

The Way out: How to protect yourself

The coronavirus disease could be prevented in similar ways as most other viruses. Simple personal hygiene tips will keep you safe. Health experts suggest that the best way to ward off any virus like this is to wash your hands frequently. Try the best way you can to avoid people coughing and sneezing, especially in places it has been announced that the virus is existing. Sanitize a public surface you’ll be using for a few hours, like an airplane tray table or your desk. You might need a hand sanitizer as is usually the case in places where there is an outbreak of a viral disease.

You can reduce your risk of infection by avoiding people who are sick. Try to avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Wash your hands often with soap and water and for at least 20 seconds. Most importantly, awareness is very crucial to prevention. You can only avoid what you know. If you are sick and have reason to believe it may be the Wuhan coronavirus due to travel to the region or coming into contact with someone who has been there, you should let a health care provider know and seek treatment early. Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze, and disinfect the objects and surfaces you touch.

You won’t hear any health expert advising you to use face mask as a form of prevention. Get the right information and work with it.

Summary of preventive measures

  • Wash your hand with soap and water for not less than 20 seconds for as often as possible
  • Clean your hands regularly with alcohol-based hand sanitizers. Washing your hand with Soap and water is far more effective than hand sanitizer. As suggested by health experts, if you’re using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, you should make sure that it contains at least 60% alcohol.
  • Don’t touch your face except when you’ve washed your hands with soap and water
  • Keep a Social distance (stay about 6 feet away from people always)
  • Be vigilant – Watch out for symptoms make a good move by calling health officials
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands
  • Avoid contact with sick people
  • Cover your mouth when you cough and sneeze
  • Disinfect objects and surfaces frequently

 

The Author

Chinenye Nwabueze

Nwabueze is a communication researcher with several years of lecturing experience in Nigerian universities.

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