Wearing a face mask is a public health measure that is likely to be helpful at this time of the pandemic. The decision to recommend its use by public health authorities was a difficult one. One of the biggest reasons was that educating the public on how to wear a face mask safely is challenging.
During my recent forays into the public, these are the top five issues I have seen when observing people wearing masks:
Pulling the face mask down over your chin.
This is probably the number one error that I notice.
You are wearing a mask outside on a walk or to the grocery store and at some point, you feel you “want a break” from it and you pull it down over your chin. Perhaps you want to talk to someone or eat something. When you do this, you effectively contaminate yourself with any virus particles that were on your mask prior to that. Doing this could result in infection.
Once you put your mask on, do not pull it down. It’s either on or it’s off and there is no in between. Minor adjustments to its position can be made but only if done safely, as outlined later in this article.
Not covering your nose.
Many people cover only their mouth with their face mask. But we breathe through our mouth and our nose. This means that these individuals can easily breathe as well as transmit the virus to others through their nose. Always cover both your nose and your mouth.
Touching the mask.
Never touch the mask once it is on you. You can put virus that was on your hands onto your mask that way. Before you put it on, wash or sanitize your hands. Put the mask on. Because you touched your face, wash/sanitize your hands again.
Now, do not touch that mask again unless you need to make a minor adjustment to its position. If you need to do that, wash/sanitize the hands, adjust it slightly, and then wash/sanitize again.
Wearing the mask upside down.
Many people wearing a medical grade mask have it on inverted. The metal piece on the mask is to be worn around the bridge of your nose and adjusted to fit. The folded edge of the pleats on the mask itself should be on the bottom.
Wearing a moist mask.
I was running the other day and saw a lady doing heavy gardening and lawn work while wearing a mask which had obviously become sweaty and damp. Once a mask is worn for a period of time and becomes humid, it no longer acts as a protective barrier and is dangerous to wear. It would be best to practise physical distancing measures when participating in high-intensity activities instead of wearing an essentially ineffective mask.
Remember: when you arrive home, wash/sanitize your hands. Then remove the face mask and place it immediately in the wash or dispose of it right away. Then, wash/sanitize your hands again immediately.
About the Author
Dr. Michael Szabo is the Medical Director of Novus Health. He is an emergency physician at University Health Network in Toronto and a lecturer in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the University of Toronto. Dr. Szabo has 25 years of experience providing front-line medical care. He has extensive experience with providing executive and concierge health care as well as expert medical second opinions.
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