How to safely use face mask to prevent coronavirus infection – WHO Guide

As the argument on whether wearing of face masks are essential in preventing the spread of COVID-19, many people still insist on wearing it believing it helps them play safe during this period.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said  during a media briefing on April 1, that face mask priority should still go to healthcare workers, people who are sick with COVID-19, and their caretakers. According to the WHO director-general, healthy people don’t need to wear face masks yet. “We’re continuing to study the evidence about the use of masks. WHO’s priority is that frontline health workers are able to access essential personal protective equipment, including medical masks and respirators,” Tedros said, adding that the organization is working with governments and manufacturers to step up production of such equipment.

But the argument of experts such as Sanjay Gupta, Ben Cowling, a professor of epidemiology and a mask researcher at the University of Hong Kong’s School of Public Health, and many others is beginning to change that perception especially in view of the fact that wearing of face masks by the general public worked in South Korea. Even WHO agrees to the social and psychological benefits of wearing face mask, as was noted during its briefing on 30th March. For instance, in some countries, mask wearing helped to prevent stigmatizing the infected.

Sanjay Gupta reminded the world that many coronavirus careers are asymptomatic, so they could be moving about, not wearing face masks because they are not sick, and unknowingly spreading the disease. When they eventually start showing the symptoms and ‘become qualified’ to wear face masks, it is then too late. This is a very pertinent point which counters and punctures the widely held view pushed by the WHO that those who are not sick should not wear face masks as protection from coronavirus infection. Just like every other person that holds this view, wearing a face mask could give false impression of security but what of the asymptomatic careers of the virus who are wearing the mask not knowing they are preventing the spread of the virus?

So what really matters now is to ensure that those who are wearing masks are doing saw correctly.

WHO says those who should wear a face mask are as follows, according to Says Michael J. Ryan, Chief Executive Director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme: Those who are sick; those who are home caregivers for those who are sick (people caring for the sick should wear masks to protect themselves and to prevent further transmission throughout a family unit) and those who are frontline healthcare workers (these are people most at risk from this virus and are exposed to the virus “every second of every day”, Ryan also said).

The World Health Organization (WHO) has suggested that if masks are used, best practices should be followed on how to wear, remove, and dispose of them and on hand hygiene action after removal.

Many people who wear face masks as a preventive measure during coronavirus pandemic probably do not know that they’re getting it wrong.

WHO then gave advice regarding appropriate mask management, and from all indications, people have been using masks wrongly across the world, especially in Africa. Read the safe ways to use face masks outlines by WHO and be shocked by the contents.

Mask Management

The following information on correct use of medical masks derives from the practices in health-care settings:

  • place mask carefully to cover mouth and nose and tie securely to minimise any gaps between the face and the mask;
  • while in use, avoid touching the mask;
  • remove the mask by using appropriate technique (i.e. do not touch the front but remove the lace from behind);
  • after removal or whenever you in advertently touch a used mask, clean hands by using an alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water if visibly soiled
  • replace masks with a new clean, dry mask as soon as they become damp/humid;
  • do not re-use single-use masks;
  • discard single-use masks after each use and dispose of them immediately upon removal.

Cloth (e.g. cotton or gauze) masks are not recommended under any circumstance.

Even in Nigeria, face masks made from cotton have flooded the market either because they are available or affordable. It is now clear that most people who use face masks use them wrongly.

After reading this piece, decide on the divide you should rightly belong. If you decide to be wearing face masks then do it the right way, according to advice by health experts.

Home Care

When involved in home care here’s what anyone in the following categories should do;

Individuals with suspected2019-nCoV infection with mild respiratory symptoms should:

  • perform hand hygiene frequently, using alcohol-based hand rub if hands are not visibly soiled or soap and water when hands are visibly soiled;
  • keep distance from well individuals as much as possible (at least 1 meter);
  • to contain respiratory secretions, a medical mask should be provided to the individual and worn as much as possible, if it can be tolerated. For individuals who cannot tolerate a medical mask, he/she should rigorously apply respiratory hygiene, i.e. cover mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing with disposable paper tissue. Dispose of the material after use. Clean hands immediately after contact with respiratory secretions;
  • improve airflow in living space by opening windows and door as much as possible.

Relatives or caregivers to individuals with suspected 2019-nCoV infection with mild respiratory symptoms should:

  • perform hand hygiene frequently, using alcohol-based hand rub if hands are not visibly soiled or soap and water when hands are visibly soiled;
  • keep distance from affected individual as much as possible (at least 1 meter);
  • wear a medical mask when in the same room with the affected individual;
  • dispose of the material immediately after use. Clean hands immediately after contact with respiratory secretions;-improve airflow in living space by opening windows as much as possible.

Health Care Facilities

Individuals with respiratory symptoms should:

  • wear a medical mask while waiting in triage or waiting areas or during transportation within the facility;
  • wear a medical mask when staying in cohorting areas dedicated to suspected or confirmed cases;
  • do not wear a medical mask when isolated in single rooms but cover mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing with disposable paper tissues. Dispose them appropriately and perform hand hygiene immediately afterwards.

Health care workers should:

  • wear a medical mask when entering a room where patients suspected or confirmed of being infected with 2019-nCoV are admitted and in any situation of care provided to a suspected or confirmed casec;
  • use a particulate respirator at least as protective as a US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)-certified N95, European Union (EU) standardFFP2, or equivalent, when performing aerosol-generating procedures such as tracheal intubation, non-invasive ventilation, tracheotomy, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, manual ventilation before intubation, and bronchoscopy.

The Author

Chinenye Nwabueze

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

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