COVID-19: Facemasking and keeping healthy

Now that facemasks have become crucial in the battle against COVID-19, it is important I write on the various types, when and how to use them effectively against the highly infectious disease. These days we see different types of fabric masks with different styles and colours. Some degrees of elegance, style and swag have been brought into the use of facemasks by many Nigerians as fashionistas prefer unique ones that match their caps, bags or even their clothes.
With the recent declaration of the #MaskUpLagos initiative by the Lagos State Government on the compulsory use of facemasks by all residents when in public places, it becomes imperative for the awareness level to be raised for Lagosians to get informed on the proper use of the mask.

One surprising but simple truth about facemask is that, it does not protect the wearer from contracting the virus, it only protects others from being infected. So, for uniformity and safety of all, everyone must have it on as directed by most state governments and health institutions. This will reduce the chances of spreading the disease. We should also remember not to lower our guard by abandoning the culture of regular handwashing with soap and water or hand sanitizer as this will fully complement the use of facemask to prevent chances of being easily infected. Wearer of a mask must also know how to use it and dispose of it properly. The World Health Organization strongly advises the cleaning of hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water before putting on a mask. Information obtained on its website further reveals the following guidelines on the use of facemasks: “Cover mouth and nose with mask and make sure there are no gaps between your face and the mask. Avoid touching the mask while using it; if you do, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water. Replace the mask with a new one as soon as it is damp and do not re-use single use masks. To remove the mask: remove it from behind (do not touch the front of the mask); discard immediately in a closed bin; cleans hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.”According to a note by the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) to the general public on COVID-19 Personal Protective Equipment, masks and other protective clothing are usually worn by persons to create barrier and offer different levels of protection. This barrier, according to the agency, reduces the spread of the infectious material in the hospital and or in the community. NAFDAC noted that masks are of two types – non-medical and medical masks and respirator. Medical masks are meant for health care professionals because of their high level of risk to exposure.

While non-medical masks are for the general public as they serve to limit the spread of droplets and offer some measure of protection to those around the wearer.For those who prefer to use self-made facemasks and nose covers, there is a simple test to confirm quality and protective strength of that mask. If the wearer cannot put off a flame from a cigarette lighter that is placed in front of the wearer, the mask is protective enough. But if wearer is able to put off the flame from cigarette lighter, then it’s not effective for protection.The material of construction for non-medical masks is usually cloth (textile fabric), non-woven wadding or paper-like materials. NAFDAC recommends 100% cotton though, polyester, linen or knit fabric can also be used.  “These face masks are recommended to be washed daily and preferably should be a double layer of fabric to increase the absorbency and effectiveness. It must be noted that several washes, drying and stretching of the mask over time reduce the effectiveness of the mask,” the NAFDAC note to the public further added.Let me also add that, these nonmedical facemasks should be sun-dried or iron-pressed alternatively after washing. The heat, as a form of sterilization, is believed to keep any virus still stuck at bay. Some health experts also advise that a facemask wearer should remove it from their face with two hands at the same time. This is to avoid possibility of contamination of other body parts or even the clothes being worn.The Food and Drug Control Agency warns strongly that, “Nonmedical masks or barrier face masks do not prevent you  from contracting disease but, they have been found to contribute to reduce spread of the infections when used widely in conjunction with other measures. Such measures include social distancing, not touching the face, eyes or mouth, washing of hands with soap for 20 secs or use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers.”In general, NAFDAC noted the following salient points on protective clothing: “Simply wearing protective clothing will not guarantee protection. The protective effect of the clothing can only be ensured if the protective clothing is put on and taken off in the correct way and, if correct working procedures are followed; protective clothing is disposable in most cases though, some can be reused after sterilization; standard protective clothing should be chosen; protective clothing should fit the wearer and should not hamper movement; protective clothing should be checked before use and replaced if damaged; contaminated protective clothing should be disposed of in specially designed rubbish bag.”

A research study on face-touching behavior revealed that human beings by default touch their faces on an average of 23 times in just one hour. Forty-four percent of those touches were to the mouth, nose and eyes which serve as easy access to infections.  It brings to the fore the everyday message of advice we hear from public health and medical experts since the advent of this novel virus to avoid touching of our faces as one wise way of avoiding the virus. Face touching, a frequent habit that has many health implications, especially in this era of COVID-19 must be brought under full control through proper hand hygiene.  As much as possible, with or without facemasks, because one cannot err on the side of caution, avoid touching the face with the hands whether or not they are visibly clean. It is better to be safe than sorry; so choose to stay safe.Kayode Ojewale,Idimu, Lagos [email protected]

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