Opinion

Covid-19 prevention; how protective is your mask?

The use of face masks has recently become the new normal following the widespread of COVID-19. As part of the fight to help curb the rise in the spread of this deadly virus, Ghana joins the world’s affected countries to enforce the mandatory use of face mask.

Although several research findings show that the use of a face mask cannot completely protect people from contracting the disease, it could at least reduce transmission of the virus.

In spite of this laudable action to help curb the pandemic, we should be reminded that, the appropriate wearing of the face mask, along with other protective measures, contributes a lot to winning the fight against COVID-19.

For the first time in Ghana’s history, it is recommended that everybody wears face masks when venturing out of their homes into places where it is difficult to maintain social distance. We see people all over the streets, especially in the Greater Accra Region, with nose and mouth covered with surgical masks, cloth face masks, as well as pieces of cloth such as bandana, handkerchiefs and so on to prevent catching the disease.

However, this new culture is not the utmost preventive measure from contracting the disease. The regular washing of hands with soap under running water; the use of alcohol-based sanitizer; the maintenance of social distancing and staying home as much as possible should not be compromised. These practices in addition to the wearing of face mask may help keep us safe.

Dr Ebenezer Badu Sarkodie, Director of Public Health of the Ghana Health Service (GHS), in an interview with Daily Graphic, emphasised that not all nose masks have the ability to stop viruses and bacteria from reaching the nostrils and even the kind of mask that has the ability to protect one from inhaling the virus — N95 — needs to be worn properly and tight.

Face masks for COVID-19 prevention is generally in three (3) types: homemade cloth face mask, surgical mask and N95 respirator. The N95 respirator is a more tight-fitting face mask which filters splashes, sprays, large droplets, and even very small particles to a protection of 95 percent.

 The surgical masks are disposable, loose-fitting face masks that cover your nose, mouth, and chin. They protect us from sprays, splashes, and large-particle droplets. This mask does not filter out smaller aerosol particles, and also has spaces on the sides which allow air leakage as we inhale.

While surgical masks are not effective as N95 in the protection against infection with SARS-CoV-2, they can help trap infectious respiratory secretions such as (saliva, cough etc). This can be a vital tool in helping prevent the spread of the virus to others in our surroundings.

The cloth made mask can be made at home from household materials. Cloth mask does not filter small aerosol particles. It may not be as effective as N95 and the surgical mask or may not provide the same level of protection as the other masks; however, if it is worn properly, it can block larger droplets ejected by coughing and sneezing and can offer us some germ protection.

According to the Austrian government’s medical advisers, the novel coronavirus is likeliest to be spread through larger droplets ejected by coughing and sneezing which a rudimentary mask might impede. This indicates that even the cloth face mask to a limited extent, can slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus but do not know it from transmitting it to others.

Due to shortages and high cost of the N95 and surgical masks, it is advised that they are reserved for frontline workers and the medical officers who are highly exposed to COVID-19 patients. We must try and patronize the cloth mask more because of its affordability and easily accessibility. Inasmuch as we adhere to the president’s directives on the use of facial mask, it should not be done in isolation.

Other preventive practices such as: frequent washing of hands, social distancing, should not be stopped as we are not wholly protected from these masks. These masks if not worn appropriately and properly will leave us with no protection. Cloth mask must be sewn properly according to the guidelines given by the Food and Drug Authority (FDA) and must be washed immediately after use. We must avoid touching our faces and wash hands before and after use since the cloth can accumulate germs.

According to the Centre for Disease Control (CDC), the cloth mask should be washed with warm water and ironed or be put in an oven for 20 minutes at about 160 degrees Fahrenheit.

“Cloth face coverings should not be placed on young children under age 2, or anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance,” CDC further said.

Research shows that countries like Czech Republic and Germany and other Asian countries have flattened growth in COVID-19 cases after their governments announced the compulsory wearing of face mask, especially home-made masks for all citizens.

Let’s fight COVID-19 together by patronising and wearing the home-made cloth mask appropriately and applying other preventive measures to reduce our COVID-19 cases and life will return to normalcy.