Behind the mask

Updated: Apr 21, 2020, 09:52 IST | Sukanya Datta | Mumbai

A doctor draws up a checklist of which masks are safe, why wear them, and the hygiene etiquette to swear by during this time

The civic body has made it mandatory to wear masks in public spaces. Pic/Satej Shinde
The civic body has made it mandatory to wear masks in public spaces. Pic/Satej Shinde

Earlier this month, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) made it compulsory for citizens to wear face masks in public places, failing which they can be arrested. After hand sanitisers, masks are the next big thing in demand right now, with shortage of supplies being reported in several parts of the world. At the same time, social media is flooded with gyaan on the effectiveness of masks and DIY tutorials. But all of this boils down to two things: protecting yourself and preventing the spread of the virus, says Dr Abdul Samad Ansari, director of critical care services, Nanavati Super Speciality Hospital.

Save the best for the medics
The highest grade of masks, such as N90 or N95, should be reserved for those on the frontlines of the battle against COVID-19. "When you need to protect yourself, you require masks that can filter out all the droplets coming from an infected person. The ones who need such masks are healthcare professionals," Dr Ansari explains. The second in line are the triple-layered surgical masks, which doctors use while operating. "Common people should not hoard surgical masks. The third kind of masks are cloth ones, whose efficacy is much lesser than surgical masks. However, these masks are sufficient to prevent the wearer from infecting other people."

Dr Abdul Samad Ansari
Dr Abdul Samad Ansari

I protect you; you protect me
Last week this paper reported that while making masks compulsory, the BMC chief in his statement said that according to studies, wearing the protective gear can substantially reduce the spread of Coronavirus, provided other social distancing measures are followed. Reiterating the same, Dr Ansari says that wearing reusable cloth masks, that are easily available and can be made at home, is part of the community's defence mechanism. "Universal masking is known to reduce transmission rate to some extent. The whole point of the general public wearing masks is to ensure their sputum doesn't spread to others. It follows the logic that 'I protect you; you protect me'."

Follow hygiene etiquette
Dr Ansari reminds us that one cannot be over-reliant on masks. "Even if we wear the best of masks, if we keep touching it, share it with others, and avoid social distancing, the whole point is lost," he says, adding that the pandemic is like the sticky-glue phenomena. He advises us to follow basic hygiene etiquette. "Wash your hands for 20 seconds, use your elbows to cough, don't touch your face, use only the bands or strings to untie masks, maintain social distancing and stay at home." He also stresses on the need to wash reusable cloth masks and change them at regular intervals.

Make yourself a handkerchief mask

Make yourself a handkerchief mask

. Any used cotton cloth or handkerchief can be used to make face covers. Wash the fabric in boiling water (add salt) for five minutes and dry it.

. Fold the handkerchief from one side to a little above the middle of the cloth. Now fold over the other edge to go above the first fold. Fold this again evenly from the middle.

Make yourself a handkerchief mask

. Take a rubber band and slip it on the left side (as shown in the top right picture); do it for the right side. Ensure the area in the middle of the two bands is big enough to cover your mouth and nose.

. Take one edge of the cloth on the side of the rubber band and fold over it; do this for both sides. Now take one fold and insert in to the other fold. Your face cover is ready.

. Ensure that the face cover fits around your mouth and nose comfortably and there is no gap between the mask and the mouth. Use only the bands to remove the mask and never reuse it without cleaning it in soap solution or boiling in water and salt.

— Issued by the principal scientific advisor to the Government of India.

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