Lockdowns, social distancing & Face masks – What face mask to use?

Lockdowns, social distancing & Face masks – What face mask to use?

When the bells rang out for new year’s day 2020, I don’t think anyone could have imagined that we would be having debates about things such as face masks and viruses. The term “social distancing” was unheard of unless you had a job in virology or pandemic management. Entire countries would be shut down, streets would be deserted, airports empty and life ground to a halt. Our lives were suddenly totally different, all sense of normality was gone, plans suddenly shifted from planning days out or holidays to planning how to go to a supermarket so they did not have to queue outside for an hour.

A simple trip to a supermarket suddenly became a big event, with a lot of planning involved for many people. Millions of people could not leave their homes due to the risk to their health, schools were shut for months. Parents juggled homeschooling with working from home. The heroes were every-day people, such as shop workers, cleaners and health care professionals. War analogies were often used, but this was a virus named COVID-19. Many people lost their loved ones before their time, others will have long term impacts for years to come.

Empty streets during covid-19 lockdown, April 2020.

There have been endless debates on social media about the virus and what to do about it. People suddenly became experts on virology and pandemic management, debates became heated relationships became strained, probably not helped by people having nothing else to do other than to watch TV or go on the internet. Many people still believe that the virus is not real and some believe that the flu is more deadly. One thing that all the medical experts agreed on was that three things would help slow the spread of the virus: Washing hands, covering your face and keeping a distance from others.

Social media was flooded with posts about how useless masks are or worse – how dangerous masks are. All debunked, but false information spreads much easier than correct information, unfortunately. People suddenly forgot the lesson that they were all taught as children: Cover your mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing.

Face Masks – why now?

Perhaps one of the most striking lifestyle changes resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic is the use of face masks in grocery stores and other public places. Wearing a mask, especially when in close proximity to others, is important to slow the spread of COVID-19. As previously mentioned, it is not a magic solution and it is not something that will help if that’s the only solution we have. People may ask why they weren’t mandated back in March 2020 and that is a fair question. The simple answer is that poor government planning led to a major shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), so there just weren’t the stock levels to recommend face masks for the population. Vital equipment may have been taken away from care homes and hospitals when there were not many available, prices would have increased even more than they did. People went out and bought hundreds of toilet rolls, and emptied the shelves – just over the thought over the supermarkets having reduced hours and that was with plenty of food available. If the same thing happened with masks, there would have been a much worse shortage for places like care homes, who were already struggling to cope.

Face Masks – why are they important?

If you think back to your childhood, one of the first lessons you’re taught is to cover your face when coughing and sneezing. That’s because germs spread via droplets which are forcefully ejected from your body if you sneeze or cough, especially if you sneeze. The same basic concept applies for mask wearing, other cultures have done this for decades without issue. It is seen as something that can be done to help your fellow citizens, wearing a mask is about protecting other people from whatever illness you may have. Especially with an illness that often can be contagious before symptoms are displayed.

The more people that wear a mask, the more protection there is. An example would be: Sally protects Jim ➡️ Jim protects John ➡️ John protects Laura ➡️ Laura protects Natalie ➡️ Natalie protects Rebecca ➡️ Rebecca protects Neil who can’t wear a mask due to health conditions. It is also important that masks are not the sole protection, frequent hand washing and social distance are also vital, especially in close environments indoors.

There are many different types of masks and face coverings, some protect the user more and some protect people around them more. A lot of valved masks would protect the user from others but would not protect people around them if they had a virus as the droplets could escape through the valve.

These are some of the things we’ve learned:

  • Face coverings and masks can help prevent the transmission of COVID-19 and other viruses to others and may provide protection to the wearer. Over the years, multiple studies have shown that droplets can be contained with the use of face masks, which is one of the reasons that medical professionals use them. Viewed from a public health perspective, it will help reduce transmission and thus reduce risk – along with other methods such as social distancing and frequent hand washing.
  • Virus transmission in the community can be significantly reduced by the universal use of face masks. Many people are unwittingly carrying the virus, from transmitting it to others. Disease modelling suggests masks worn by significant portions of the population, coupled with other measures, could result in substantial reductions in case numbers and deaths.
  • Many people with COVID-19 are unaware they are carrying the virus. Studies have suggested that around 40% of people with COVID-19 are not displaying any symptoms – they’re asymptomatic. But they are potentially transmitting the virus to others, who may be much more vulnerable to it, this is one of the reasons that widespread testing is important, as well as wearing a mask.
  • Mask wearing is not the single solution. There is the worry that people may think that they’re fully protected if they wear a mask, this is not the case. It is just one tool available to us, as well as social distancing, frequent hand washing and limiting other risk factors.

How to use a face mask

Hands should be washed for at least 20 seconds before and after touching a mask. Wearing a mask might feel uncomfortable at first, so it is important to adjust the mask to make sure it properly fits over the nose, mouth and chin and allows for comfortable breathing and speaking. To avoid common mistakes, remember these five don’ts:

  • Do not touch your or your child’s mask while it is being worn.
  • Do not wear the mask under your chin with your nose and/or mouth exposed.
  • Do not leave your nose and/or mouth uncovered.
  • Do not remove the mask while around others in public.
  • Do not share your mask with family members or friends.
  • Do not wash disposable face masks, they’re designed for single-use, washing them reduces their effectiveness.
  • Don’t put masks on anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious or otherwise unable to remove the mask without help.
  • Don’t put masks on children under 2 years of age.
  • Don’t use face masks as a substitute for social distancing.

Do face masks affect your breathing?

If you have no health conditions that affect your breathing, then there is no evidence to say that your breathing would be affected. It often that the person feels uncomfortable with the mask on – because they’re not used to it, rather than anything else. Healthcare professionals have been wearing them daily, for decades. As mentioned at the beginning of the article, many places around the world already had widespread use of face masks before the pandemic. This article by the BBC debunks most of the claims seen on social media about face masks. There are exemptions for people with health conditions and this is perfectly fine, mask-wearing is just one tool available to us to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. PLEASE DO NOT PUT A MASK ON A CHILD UNDER THREE YEARS OF AGE.

Who has to wear a face covering?

The latest information states that people over the age of 11 have to wear a face mask in settings such as shops and indoor spaces unless covered by exemptions listed. Please consult your doctor if about mask exemption as you may have a medical condition that means you are exempt from wearing a face mask. The latest information from the UK Government can be found on their coronavirus website.

Which type of disposible face masks are best?

The government advice is for “face coverings”, which can be anything that covers your mouth and nose. Some people are using scarves but most are using masks. The best solution in this regard is to use a mask and we expect the government advice to change on this to face masks and not face coverings. The best face masks are N95 masks, but a normal medical mask would help when comparing to not using a mask at all. We will focus on disposable face masks in this article.

Surgical masks

Also called a medical mask, a surgical mask is a loose-fitting disposable mask that protects the wearer’s nose and mouth from contact with droplets, splashes and sprays that may contain germs. A surgical mask also filters out large particles in the air. Surgical masks may protect others by reducing exposure to the saliva and respiratory secretions of the mask wearer. Because they are loose-fitting, they do not provide as much protection as a sealed N95 mask as there are more gaps where droplets can escape from.

N95 masks

Actually a type of respirator, an N95 mask offers more protection than a surgical mask does because it can filter out both large and small particles when the wearer inhales. As the name indicates, the mask is designed to block 95% of very small particles. Some N95 masks have valves that make them easier to breathe through. With this type of mask, unfiltered air is released when the wearer exhales. A valved mask would offer protection for the wearer and for others if a surgical mask is worn over it, this is why you often see healthcare professionals wearing two masks.

Health care providers must be trained and pass a fit test to confirm a proper seal before using an N95 respirator in the workplace. Like surgical masks, N95 masks are intended to be disposable. However, researchers are testing ways to disinfect N95 masks so they can be reused.

Some N95 masks, and even some cloth masks, have one-way valves that make them easier to breathe through. But because the valve releases unfiltered air when the wearer breathes out, this type of mask doesn’t prevent the wearer from spreading the virus. For this reason, some places have banned them.

Protection levels

Dust masks are marked with the code FFP. This stands for ‘filtering facepiece’. They can be classified as FFP 1, FFP 2 or FFP 3.

The higher the number, the better the protection. When you do a task that involves toxic substances, it is best to choose the highest protection.

  • A face mask with code FFP1 (Yellow Strap) protects against large, solid particles. Only suitable for protection against irritating, not harmful substances. Minimum filter efficiency of 78%.
  • A face mask with code FFP2 (Blue Strap) protects against solid and liquid irritating aerosols. Minimum filter efficiency of 92%.
  • A face mask with code FFP3 (Red Strap)  protects against solid and liquid toxic aerosols. Minimum filter efficiency of 98%.

And, here are a few face mask precautions:

  • Don’t put masks on anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious or otherwise unable to remove the mask without help.
  • Don’t put masks on children under 2 years of age.
  • Don’t use face masks as a substitute for social distancing.

Tips for adjusting to a face mask

It can be challenging to get used to wearing a face mask. Here are some tips for making the transition:

  • Start slow. Wear your mask at home for a short time, such as while watching television. Then wear it during a short walk. Slowly increase the time until you feel more comfortable.
  • Find your fit. If your mask isn’t comfortable or is too difficult to breathe through, consider other options. Masks come in a variety of styles and sizes.

View all our available face masks in our store

If these tips don’t help or you have concerns about wearing a mask, talk with your doctor about how to protect yourself and others during the pandemic. It is vital that people understand that wearing a face mask does not provide immunity or full protection from any virus, they are one option in a set of solutions we have available to us.

There is no solution that suits everyone, please remember that each person has their own circumstances and be kind to others.

Comment (1)

  • Jim Hunt Reply

    Great article, thank you for the clarity. It is much needed with all of the fog screens people are creating.

    13 October 2020 at 3:23 pm

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