Before discussing the issue, the reader should note this article is an opinion piece and it is always good advice to read around any subject and weigh up medical and scientific opinion. Furthermore, opinion pieces do not reflect the view of Digital Journal, but of the author. The author is a practicing pharmaceutical microbiologist.
This article is about face masks and the issues around them during the coronavirus pandemic. In putting this together there is an acknowledgment that the debate around masks and the coronavirus pandemic are emotive subjects. There is an accompanying video to this article:
First off, don’t think of a face mask as the first line of defense. There are other considerations:
Ideally, avoid visiting or working in an area where there may be a risk – follow advice about staying in expect for shopping for groceries, visiting pharmacies or if you are a key worker
Practice social distancing (by keeping 2 meters (or 6 feet away from another person).
Practice regular handwashing (hot water and soap) or hand sanitization where washing facilities are not available.
Regularly disinfect work areas and regularly touched items (such as keyboards, telephones, printers, computer monitors and so on).
The most effective and least hazardous disinfectants to human health are alcoholic based disinfectants (61 to 71 percent concentration).
In situations where social distancing cannot be practiced, the wearing of face masks can be considered, but only under special circumstances. It is important to remember face masks are in short supply for healthcare workers, so using a face mask unnecessarily means one less mask for a healthcare worker.
Surgical face masks are designed to ensure that the person wearing the fac mask does not infect another person (such as with a surgeon undertaking surgery). This means, face masks do not fully protect the wearer from contracting the coronavirus, although they may minimize the intake of viruses. This is fundamental to face mask design: masks filter bacteria and viruses produced by the wearer, and they are designed for easy air flow in the other direction, so that the wearer stays cool and comfortable.
Moreover, there are other routes of infection, especially with the eyes.
There may be circumstances where a face mask is needed, such as two key workers who need to work less than 2 meters apart.
Here it’s useful to note:
Face masks must be of the right size for the user. Having to readjust a face mask is poor practice and is one indication that the face mask is unsuitable.
Once a face mask has been fitted, a test to see if the face mask fits is to breathe in (and check that the fabric of the mask moves in towards the mouth) and to breathe out (to check that the mask blows slightly outward).
Furthermore, there are clear risks with handling face masks. Coronavirus RNA has been shown to be recoverable from the material used to manufacture surgical masks for several days and a mask that been worn must be regarded as hazardous (or infectious) waste.
The act of putting on or removing a mask carries a risk, including viral transmission to the hands and the way the mask is handled, particularly any potential contamination from the inside of the mask.
Face mask efficiency decreases over time. It is recommended that face masks are only worn for the work session or for a maximum of six hours. The six hours is one continuous time period rather than cumulative (that is the masks should not be removed and then put back on again).
Face masks should either be removed wearing new gloves, or hands should be immediately washed with hot soap and water (avoid touching any door handles and ideally use automatic soap and water dispenser sinks). It is also important that face masks must immediately be disposed of in an infectious waste container.
Further, never re-use a face mask. There’s no way of effectively disinfecting a face mask without damaging the integrity of the mask material.
My final opinion is that unless you are key worker who needs to work in close proximity with someone else or a healthcare professional who needs to wear a mask to minimize infection to a patient, if you don’t have coronavirus then every time you put on a face mask you’re not only increasing the risk to others, it also means that’s one less mask for a healthcare professional.