If you've been on planet earth for any length for the last eight or so months, you will notice that there have been some remarkable changes. For one, we've suddenly become overly concerned about washing our hands. There have also been fewer flights, and the conditions to be satisfied before entering a country are now more stringent than ever. 

There's only one reason for these changes that we've had to implement to keep ourselves safe. And that reason is the global pandemic that was caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Through the very high highs of the epidemic, local health authorities' message has remained the same; wear a mask, social distance, and wash your hands thoroughly. 

However, even though those instructions may seem specific at face value, they aren't really. Several other questions should be answered. For one, what sort of masks should we wear? What kind of mask would be the most effective? What is the minimum distance we need to keep from others while social distancing? And how long should we wash our hands? What hand sanitizers? Do they work? And if they do, what kind is more effective? Are there any guidelines we should take note of when using medical masks

While some of these questions have been answered through popular medium— for example, we know that sanitizing our hands work and that only sanitizers with more than 60% alcohol content are effective. However, the answers to some questions are still elusive. For example, what guidelines are there to note when using medical masks? 

Well, they need to be elusive anymore. 

Mask Guidelines

There are many kinds of masks, and they all come with separate but rather similar guidelines. For the sake of this article, we'll divide masks into two categories. The first category will be ordinary homemade masks used by regular citizens without exposure to coronavirus patients. The second will be surgical (or medical masks) used by health care professionals who care for coronavirus patients.

The ordinary homemade masks are just a simple barrier that's primarily meant to stifle any spray from the person wearing it. Therefore, it doesn't stop the spread of the virus— it only slows it down. This class of masks is to ensure that people infected by the coronavirus don't start spreading it quickly among the population. 

However, surgical masks (like the N95 respirators) are generally more effective in preventing contracting the virus. Healthcare professionals who wear these masks and attend to sick patients can be reasonably satisfied that they have some protection level against the virus. 

Guidelines For A Ordinary Homemade Mask 

We may use ordinary homemade masks as a blanket term to refer to all masks of this kind, but many different mask types come under this umbrella. What differentiates these masks from one another is their construction, structure, and the material used in making them. Some ordinary homemade masks include those made with t-shirts, those made with cotton, and those made with bandannas/scarves or other face coverings. 

Different as these masks may seem, they offer roughly the same level of protection against coronavirus— and that level of protection is not very much. 

Things You Need To Know About Wearing Ordinary Homemade Masks

  • The mask must have two or more layers to be at its best. 
  • The mask must be worn over your nose, and it should be secured under your chin. 
  • Masks should be worn by people who are two years and older. People younger than that do not have to wear masks. People younger than two mustn't wear cloth masks, as it could make it difficult for them to breathe. People who have trouble breathing should also not be allowed to wear masks. 
  • You should not wear masks that are meant for healthcare workers. This refers to respirators like N95. Using an N95 mask would mean taking a respirator out of the hands of people who need it the most. This wouldn't be a problem if there were an adequate supply of these masks. However, there is not, so we have to keep the best for healthcare workers. 
  • Face shields can offer some level of protection, but they mustn't be used alone. While many studies are going on to ascertain the exact usefulness of face shields, it's important to avoid jumping the gun. If you want to use a face shield, still use a mask. 

How To Choose The Best Masks For You

If you don't know how to choose the right face mask, well, here are some helpful tips. 

  • Make sure whatever mask you're choosing has two layers of washable, breathable fabric.
  • Ensure that the mask completely covers your nose and mouth.
  • Try not to choose masks that are made with fabrics that are difficult to breathe through. An excellent example of these masks is silk and vinyl. 
  • Also, make sure the mask fits snugly against the sides of your mouth. 
  • Masks that have exhalation valves or vents may look cool, but they aren't very useful. Those valves and vents will allow virus particles to escape, which you don't want from a mask. 
  • If you wear glasses and are worried about fogging, find a mask that fits perfectly over your nose or one that has wiring. That would limit the fogging, and you wouldn't have to clean your glasses a thousand times a minute. 
  • If you have children, do not give them adult-sized masks. Find a mask that is fit for children and give it to them. If you fail to find a mask that's made for children, then you have to make sure the mask they eventually use fits snugly over their nose and mouth and under their chin. 
  • IMPORTANTLY, do not make children younger than two years old wear masks. 

How To Wear Ordinary Homemade Masks 

For best protection, you don't only have to wear a mask consistently; you also have to do so correctly. 

  • Before putting on the mask, make sure to wash your hands. 
  • While wearing the mask, make sure that you don't touch it. 
  • Again, you have to make sure that the mask fits snugly over your nose and mouth and that it's breathable. 

How To Take Off A Mask

Sure, we understand that you probably want to get a hold of your mask and toss it away after an incredibly long day. But that is dangerous and will make you lose all the "gains" you've made in terms of protecting yourself from the virus that day. 

Here are the proper steps to take when you get back home and want to take off your mask. 

  • First, carefully untie the strings behind your head (if your mask is fitted on this way), or stretch your ear loops (if this is the mechanism that helps your mask stay on). 
  • Then remove the mask. .
  • Ensure that you do not touch the body of the mask, and that all you've done is handle it by the loops or ties. 
  • Next, fold the outside corners together, and put it with your regular laundry.
  • After removing the mask, care to avoid touching your face before washing your hands with soap and water. 

How To Clean The Mask

It's Important to have multiple masks so that you can quickly wear a clean one each day. This means that it's neither advisable nor acceptable to wear a mask without cleaning it first. While you may take such liberties with your underwear, you cannot afford to take them with your face mask. 

  • To clean your mask, include it with your regular laundry 
  • Use regular laundry detergent while washing it, and use the warmest possible water setting when washing it
  • When drying it, use the highest heat setting, and make sure it stays in the dryer until it is scorched. 

 Guide For Medical Masks

CDC guidelines for medical masks (especially masks like the N95 respirator) are a lot more complicated than regular masks. 

And it's clear to see why this is so. Healthcare officials are exposed to more risk and thus have to employ more caution than any other class of persons. It may sound a bit macabre, but in the fight against pandemics and pathogens, the lives of healthcare workers and first responders are more important. When a health care worker is lost to the ravaging illness, there are less hands to take care of members of the general population who get sick. This means the death of healthcare workers is a compound loss— and that's why it must be avoided at all cost. 

First off, whenever medic masks are needed for employee safety, several measures must be put into place to ensure the individual's safety. Some of the measures include;

  • There must be stringent procedures for selecting the respirators for use. For one, all respirators selected for use must have NIOSH approval. Respirators without this approval must not be used, as they may be defective. 
  • There must be medical evaluation and clearance to help decide whether respirator users are physically fit enough to put on a respirator. 
  • There must be employee training to make sure that the workers who will be donning the respirators are familiar with their proper use. They must also be reasonably familiar with donning procedures and protective limitations of the respirator. 
  • Qualitative and quantitative fit testing measures must be put in place to determine which respirator is the right fit for workers. 
  • Procedures for cleaning, disinfecting, storing, inspecting, discarding/repairing, and maintaining the respirators must be spelled out in black and white. There must be an established protocol that will help workers deal with the respirators before, after, and during use. 

However, these guidelines are only for the healthcare institutions that are providing these respirators. Asides from these guidelines, users of the respirators themselves must take some measures to ensure that the masks are used properly and get maximum protection.

Before we dive into that, it's important to remind ourselves of one thing; N95 masks are not infallible.  No mask is infallible. The level of protection that the N95 offers is directly dependent on how well the mask seals to the user's face. To ensure that the masks work correctly and provide the highest protection level, healthcare workers must follow the following guidelines.

  • They should only use the respirator model and size that they've been fit tested for. If the respirator is not properly fitted, it could very well lead to inadequate protection. 
  • They mustn't use the respirator with beards or other facial hair. The beards could interfere with the mask's shape and stop it from sealing entirely around your face. Yes, this means that health care workers who use the mask must cut off all their beards and mustache before using the mask.
  • A seal check should be conducted every time the mask is done. And yes, this must be done before entering the hazardous area. 
  • If there's damage to the mask during working hours, workers must immediately leave the hazardous area. They should also immediately leave the area when they notice that they are experiencing problems with respirator use. If they ever feel their breathing becomes labored or they start feeling dizzy, they should leave the area immediately and put off the mask. 

Can medical masks be reused?

During pandemics or periods of a complete breakout of infectious respiratory diseases, the supply of medical masks can become quite depleted. When that happens, health authorities are usually faced with an interesting dilemma. Do they approve of the extended use and limited reuse for respirators, even though they could pose serious dangers to both doctors and patients? Or do they stand by the single-use policy, regardless of how badly it may handicap the response to the pandemic?

Most times, they end up going with the former. 

Under these extraordinary conditions, respirators like the N95 mask are recommended to be reused a limited number of times. The masks are also to be used for an extended period. This is called extended use, and it will be advantageous when trying to manage the depleting supply of masks.