As lockdown continues in the UK, we’re still having conversations around face masks, the latest focusing around whether we should be wearing them outside. While masks have been compulsory in indoor, public spaces for seven months and are now a major (albeit sometimes uncomfortable) part of our lives, this marks a step-change in conversation.
While it’s easy to tire of such discussions, it’s never been more important to make sure we’re wearing our masks properly. After all, as Dr Jake Dunning, Head of Emerging Infections at Public Health England, has said, for face masks to actually do their job and be effective, they must be worn correctly, removed properly and used in combination with good personal hygiene behaviour (unfortunately yes, that does mean washing your hands when you’ve literally only popped out to take out the rubbish).
We know that everyone has more than enough on their plates at the moment and we don’t necessarily have time to check the ins and outs of how to wear a face mask, so we have pulled together five key steps as a handy guide…
- STEP 1: BEFORE PUTTING ON YOUR FACE MASK
If we’re being honest with ourselves, do we think about what we’re doing before we put our mask on? Despite most of us absent-mindedly pulling our masks on as we rush into a shop, experts say this is a crucial stage in good mask hygiene and we should pause to consider these three points:
- Firstly, you need to choose what type of face mask to use. Some will feel more comfortable with reusable, while others will prefer disposable. Studies show having multiple layers is crucial as they increase filtration efficiency, which is something to bear in mind when choosing.
- Secondly, you should always wash your hands properly before touching your mask, otherwise you may breathe in germs from your hands. If you’re out and about and not able to wash your hands, the next best thing is to use a hand sanitiser with at least 70% alcohol.
- It’s also worth checking you’re using the correct side of your mask. The general rule is that the coloured side or the side with the boldest colour goes on the outside. For example, with Kleenex® face masks, this is the black side with the embossed logo on the top left.
- STEP 2: HOW TO FIT YOUR FACE MASK
There’s also a process for how masks should fit, which is something a lot of us probably don’t think about. Thankfully, it’s pretty simple.
- Your mask must fully cover your mouth and nose to actually reduce the spread of germs. Most people inhale and exhale through their noses rather than their mouths, so the majority of virus particles will be coming out of their nose. This means if your mask doesn’t cover your nose, you might as well not be wearing one.
- Your mask must also be snug to your face. Medical professionals suggest twisting your head back and forth, sideways, up and down to see if the fit remains snug in all directions. To avoid strange looks from passers by we suggest you do this before you leave the house!
- STEP 3: WHILE YOU’RE WEARING YOUR FACE MASK
- Don’t touch the part of the face covering in contact with your mouth and nose, as it could be contaminated with the virus.
- It’s also vital that we replace our masks if they become damp as they’re less effective when they are wet. Given we’re in the depths of the British winter and rain is practically guaranteed, this is something to pay particular attention to.
- You can improve the effectiveness of your mask by adding another layer. A new study suggests that adding facial tissues such Kleenex® can be highly effective. This is also a handy trick if you struggle with glasses fogging up. If you fold the tissue horizontally between your face and the top of your mask, the moisture from your breath will be absorbed by the tissue instead of your lenses.
- STEP 4: PERSONAL HYGIENE BEHAVIOUR
As we all know, wearing a mask is just one tool to help reduce the spread of coronavirus. There are also a few broader personal hygiene behaviours to be conscious of while you’re out and about in a mask:
- Unsurprisingly, face masks don’t replace social distancing. You should maintain a 2-metre distance at all times, even if you’re wearing a mask.
- And even though it can be trickier to hear what people are saying when they’re wearing a mask, do not take them off to talk to someone. A new study suggests that talking can actually lead to higher transmission of Covid-19 than coughing, so it’s particularly important to keep your mask on if you stop in the street for a natter with your neighbour.
- STEP 5: REMOVING YOUR FACE MASK
If only it were as simple as taking your mask straight off and stuffing it in your pocket!
- You should only handle your mask by the same loops or ties as you touched when putting it on.
- You should also use hand sanitiser gel with at least 70% alcohol or wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds before removing and once removed.
- And lastly, store your mask in a clean plastic bag then dispose of your face mask in the bin if it is disposable.
Some of these steps are easier than others, but they’re all equally as important. But after nearly a year of restrictions and changes to our behaviour, it’s always worth checking in and checking ourselves. But if you keep an eye on this list before you leave the house, it’ll quickly become habit.
This article was published in February 2021.