Originally published at: https://greysnet.com/2020/05/coronavirus-everything-you-need-to-know-about-face-masks-and-gloves/
With so much constantly shifting and changing information floating around about COVID-19 it can be difficult to know what steps you should be taking to protect yourself and your loved ones from the virus.
While social distancing and washing your hands regularly remain the most effective defence against the virus you will probably have noticed some people taking additional measures like wearing face masks and gloves while out in public, even while taking exercise in open spaces.
So should you be doing the same? Here’s our guide to everything you need to know about using face masks and disposable gloves.
Are Masks Recommended or Compulsory?
The UK government recently announced new guidance which recommends that you should wear a face covering when traveling on public transport or visiting certain public places where maintaining social distancing can be difficult such as supermarkets.
What Type of Face Mask Should I Use?
You’ll probably have noticed people using all sorts of different face coverings from surgical masks (like the kind worn by doctors and nurses) to dust masks (like the kind worn by construction workers) to re-usable cloth face masks, to simple solutions like scarfs worn over the mouth and nose.
It doesn’t really matter what type of face covering you use, so don’t worry if you can’t get hold of a supply of surgical face masks. A homemade face covering can be just as effective if it is used correctly. There are lots of online guides to making your own face coverings as well as plenty of online sellers offering cloth face masks for sale. You should expect to pay anywhere between £5-£15 for a good quality washable/re-useable mask.
Do masks protect against COVID-19?
First of all it’s important to separate the two distinct functions of a face mask: the first is protecting others from being infected by the wearer, the second is protecting the wearer from infection from others.
COVID-19 is transmitted via droplets that fly out of the mouths or nose of infected people: most commonly when they cough or sneeze, but also when they speak.
These droplets range in size and can be directly inhaled or land on a surface where we pick them up on our hands before transferring them into our system by touching our face.
The current thinking is that face masks worn by an infected person can help to protect the people around them by stopping at least some of these particles, particularly larger ones from getting out.
Whether a face mask has the ability to filter out airborn particles and protect the wearer from infection is less clear. There is some evidence that masks have some effectiveness in this regard but it is minimal.
The reality is that you are less likely to get protection, in fact you could even increase your risk of infection, if you don’t take care when putting on a face mask, while you’re wearing it, and when you take it off.
How To Wear a Face Mask
Your face mask should fit snugly but comfortably against the sides of your face and be held in place with ties or ear loops. Once in position the mask should allow you to breathe normally without restriction.
Some people appear to be doing things that could defeat the purpose of wearing a mask. Examples include pulling the mask under their chin for a breather, to speak to someone, or to make a phone call; or touching the mask while wearing it.
Through these actions, you can transfer the virus directly from your hands to your face or your mobile phone then to your face, increasing your risk of being infected.
The World Health Organisation has published some dos and don’ts for wearing face masks, summarised here:
While disposable gloves are an important protective measure for health care workers like doctors and nurses, to date gloves have not been recommended as a precautionary measure against COVID-19 for the average citizen in the UK. That’s largely because of the evidence we have about how the disease is transmitted.
Coronavirus is not absorbed through the skin, so you can’t contract COVID-19 through touch alone. To acquire coronavirus through touch, you would have to touch a contaminated surface and then touch your face. Which you can do whether you are wearing gloves or not.
Just like face masks, gloves are only effective if they are worn and removed in the proper way. If you’re not careful, you can contaminate your hands when you put on or take off gloves. So follow these steps when removing gloves to reduce the risk of contaminating your hands in the process and always wash your hands after removing your gloves, or if that’s not possible use a hand sanitizer.
The general consensus from all the experts is that while wearing face coverings and gloves can provide some protection to the average person against the Coronavirus this depends entirely on using them correctly. Proper social distancing and washing our hands regular remain our best line of defence.
This article was written by Maximilian de Courten, Professor in Global Public Health, Victoria University; Barbora de Courten, Professor and Specialist Physcian, Monash University, and Vasso Apostolopoulos, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Research Partnerships, Victoria University. It is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. It has been edited by Greysnet.