Mask-wearing 101: Tips for amateurs

AFP videographic presents the two main types of mask that are most widely used to limit the transmission of coronavirus.

JOHANNESBURG - So you have to wear a mask to help stop the spread of the new coronavirus? Wondering how to choose one? Or if it will slip off, or be suffocating?

While masks are everyday accessories in parts of Asia, for those not accustomed to wearing them the experience can be unnerving, even daunting. 

South Africans began to wear face masks from 1 May 1 when the easing of coronavirus lockdown restrictions began.

READ: South Africans must wear masks after lockdown eases: Dlamini-Zuma

"It is going to be mandatory to use a cloth mask as you step out of your home," said Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

"You will need to have your nose and mouth covered in public," Dlamini-Zuma said, adding that people could use a scarf or T-shirt if they do not have a mask.

- Which mask? -

File: Unless you are a frontline health worker you do not need a high-spec respirator like the N95 or FFP2, experts say. Leave those for the professionals. 

File: Unless you are a frontline health worker you do not need a high-spec respirator like the N95 or FFP2, experts say. Leave those for the professionals. 

AFP/Pierre-Philippe Marcou

Unless you are a frontline health worker you do not need a high-spec respirator like the N95 or FFP2, experts say. Leave those for the professionals. 

When it comes to other types of masks, the advice has shifted with the understanding of the epidemic. 

Initially, health authorities and the World Health Organization said it was useless for the general population to wear masks in public. 

WATCH: Masks can protect against COVID-19

Now it is increasingly recommended as part of the public health toolbox, along with frequent handwashing and physical distancing.    

With medical personal protective equipment off the table, authorities have suggested people buy or make fabric face coverings

READ: WATCH: Textile industry's 100 million mask task

The WHO has expressed doubts that these will offer full protection for the wearer, but notes that they could stop an unknowingly infected person from passing the virus on to others. 

This matters because a significant minority of people with COVID-19 do not have any symptoms at all.  

Those wanting to make their own masks have no shortage of tutorials online to turn to for inspiration. 

 - How to fit it -

 

File: The mask should be worn on your face, not hung around the neck like a scarf, nor on the forehead like a bandana. This risks contamination. 

File: The mask should be worn on your face, not hung around the neck like a scarf, nor on the forehead like a bandana. This risks contamination. 

AFP/Sia Kambou

Once you have purchased or made your mask, there are some simple tips for wearing it comfortably and safely. 

The main thing to remember is that a face-covering does not replace other key virus avoidance measures: soap and social distance.

It may go without saying, but the mask should be worn on your face, not hung around the neck like a scarf, nor on the forehead like a bandana. This risks contamination. 

READ: COVID-19: Concerns raised over using face masks incorrectly

As does sharing the mask with others. 

To put one on, first wash your hands. 

Then holding the mask by its strings, fit it snugly over your mouth, nose and chin and fasten it in place. 

With surgical type masks, there is sometimes a rigid bar that goes over the bridge of the nose and can be pinched to fit the face. 

It is important to ensure it fits comfortably. 

A badly-fitted mask risks slippage and discomfort, tempting you to touch your face. 

If you do need to adjust the mask while out, you will need to wash your hands first. 

Single-use surgical masks can normally be worn for a maximum of a few hours before they should be replaced, depending on the type. It should be discarded earlier if it becomes wet or damaged.  

READ: WHO warns masks are no 'silver bullet' for ending pandemic

When taking off the mask, first wash your hands.  

Holding it by the fasteners, remove the mask without touching the potentially contaminated front section. Wash your hands. 

- After use -

File: Even fabric masks have a shelf life as the material degrades with washing. 

File: Even fabric masks have a shelf life as the material degrades with washing. 

eNuus

Single use surgical masks should be discarded after use, preferably in a closed bin.

For fabric models, washing instructions vary by country.

The US CDC says they should be washed regularly -- after each time they are worn -- using a mild detergent, then "dried completely in a hot dryer".

READ: COVID-19: Mkhize says face masks are essential

In France, the advice is at least 30 minutes on a 60 degrees Celsius machine wash, then drying either in a machine or open air, then ironing.  

Putting the mask in the freezer or microwave to try to kill the virus is not recommended. 

Even fabric masks have a shelf life as the material degrades with washing. 

At the slightest sign of wear, throw it away.

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