The effectiveness of wearing facemasks and surgical respirators has been a contentious issue from the very start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Of course, prevention can’t be solely based on wearing masks but also combined with proper sanitation, hand-washing and social distancing.
Masks have always been recommended by all health professionals. Especially in settings such as hospitals when there could possibly be many COVID-19 cases around, it is recommended to don a mask, even if you aren’t vaccinated.
In order to achieve full protection, it is also recommended that you put on the most protective mask possible. A good mask should be fitting, and comfortable. It is extra important for those who are immunocompromised to wear a mask with the highest protection.
How do the different types of masks work?
Medical masks are surgical masks that are loose-fitting, comfortable and most of all disposable. This means that after each use, these masks can be discarded. Its main role is to prevent droplets from entering the user’s mouth. At the same time, it also allows others to be protected from the user, in the event that the user has COVID-19. To wear this mask, place ear loops over your ears while having the little metal piece rest over the bridge of your nose.
A KN95 mask will give greater protection compared to regular medical masks as it filters out both large and small particles. However, it is worth noting that there are many KN95 masks that have not passed international standards. As such, it is important to do your personal research to check where the masks have been produced before purchasing.
N95 masks are the top of protective clothing. It is reliable and of the highest quality compared to the others. There are surgical and non-surgical alternatives. While surgical N95 masks offer the most protection, regular people like you and me can still be protected sufficiently with a non-medical option. Surgical N95 masks are recommended to be reserved for medical and health professionals. While N95 masks are disposable, researchers are hoping to see if they can make this a more reusable option. Some N95 masks may have filters to help users breathe better, but this can instead backfire as the filters do not filter the air the wearer breathes.
Cloth masks can help trap droplets of water released when the user breathes out, but also prevent the wearer from breathing in viruses of others. To further make cloth masks protective, you can choose to layer a few.
How to get the most from your masks?
If your mask does not fit your face, it might end up doing more harm than good. To make sure that your mask is correctly working its protection, you need to make sure that it fits the contours of your face well. Masks should not have any gaps, fitting nicely onto your nose, chin and cheeks. When wearing an N95 mask, you should not feel any air leaking out of the sides of the mask. For surgical masks, make sure that you wear the bendable metal wires on your nose and not the other way around.
Apart from face masks, you have to also exercise proper hygiene to ensure optimal protection. Here are some guiding steps you can follow:
- Make sure your hands are clean before putting on your mask
- Your mask should be snug and fit nicely on your face, following all contours
- Depending on the type of mask you use, either tie the strings behind your head or loop it over your ears
- When your mask is soiled, always remember to change to a new one
- After removing your mask, wash your hands immediately
- Remember to wash cloth masks after every use. Disposable masks should also be thrown after each use.
Additionally, you will need to take note not to put masks on someone who has difficulty breathing or is unconscious. Children under the age of two are also highly vulnerable and masks could become a choking hazard. Lastly, physical distancing is still very important even in mask-on settings. You should not substitute masks for physical distancing, and both should work in tandem.
What about face shields?
Face shields have also come into the spotlight — are they sufficient? While it is not recommended that one only wears a face shield instead of a mask, it can help to be the first line of defence when it comes to blocking out water droplets. This might be exceptionally useful for someone who is working in health care, or as a swabber. If you’re wearing a face shield, this would work better when a face mask is worn underneath. On its own, there may be very limited protection. However, in the case where you need to only wear a face shield, choose one that covers the side of your face and down to your chin and always continue practising social distancing.
Do you still need to wear a face mask after you’re vaccinated?
While vaccination gives your body’s immunity a boost, this does not mean that you are immune to COVID-19. You would be able to go out and about and enjoy your day, but in crowded areas or hospital settings, you might still be exposed to the virus. You are only considered fully vaccinated two weeks after getting your second dose of vaccine. Depending on your country’s health ministry’s recommendation, you might need more booster shots to retain immunity.
Altogether, face masks are an important tool when it comes to keeping COVID-19 at bay. Face masks can offer you protection against water droplets from outsiders, but also keep your personal germs to yourself. Depending on your own health and immunity levels, this would guide you in choosing which face mask is best suited for you. You might also explore switching up different mask types for different occasions. While COVID-19 is less intense than before, there are many new variants that will form every few months, and thus it is important for us to keep up with the changing variants and stay protected for our loved ones.