Cloth masks are now recommended for use by The National Minister of Health, Dr Zweli Mkhize, as of April 10. However, a number of South Africans have raised concerns about the effectiveness of these masks when going out in public during the COVID-19 pandemic. More so now that you may not be out in public without a face mask on.
Because of a general shortage of surgical masks, the National Department of Health (NDoH) has advised South Africans to make use of home-made or store-bought cloth masks. But just how effective are they in curbing the spread of the novel coronavirus, known as SARS-CoV-2?
Why Wear a Mask to Begin With?
Scientific data has shown that COVID-19 is primarily spread through respiratory droplets produced when one sneezes or coughs. This is why masks are particularly important in reducing the means in which the virus can spread. They act as a barrier of protection against contagious fluids from an infected person.
Before this, the general impression was that face masks do not help prevent the contraction of the new coronavirus – unless in the case where you are the direct caretaker of an infected person. In recent weeks, however, guidelines to protect yourself and those around you have changed.
This is because the coronavirus can be spread via silent carriers, as is the case with viruses such as HIV. This means that if you have the virus, you might not show any symptoms, but you may still spread it. By wearing a mask, you protect those around you by reducing how many droplets you release into the air.
The Use of Cloth Masks as an Additional Preventative Measure
As we all know by now, South Africa has moved from a total (level 5) lockdown to a more relaxed level 4 as from May 1. One of the requirements for the added extra benefit of more public movement is that you should do so only if you are wearing a face mask.
Apart from a shortage in medical masks, these items can prove to be very costly for the average South African. This is mostly due to the fact that most surgical masks must only be worn once before being disposed of.
Therefore, not only do cloth masks help reduce the spread of the virus, but they are also cost effective as they can be washed and re-used.
General Guidelines on Using Fabric Masks
According to the local National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), these guidelines could help keep you safe when using a cloth mask:
- Wash your face mask with soap and water (NO CHEMICALS) after use and iron when dry.
- Your face mask should cover both your nose and your mouth.
- Avoid contact with your mask as much as possible. Do not fidget with it as you should generally avoid touching your face while out in public.
- Keep the face mask on your face as much as you can. Do not lower or lift it to talk, cough or sneeze.
- Should you need to touch it for any reason, avoid any contact with the inner side of your mask.
- Your masks should not be shared between you and anyone else.
Please note that using cloth masks is only one of many ways you can curb the spread of coronavirus. You still need to avoid being out in public as much as possible, wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water immediately after arriving home and keeping a safe 1-meter distance between yourself and other members of the public.
You can buy the cloth mask here: https://supportblack.co.za/product/v-shaped-face-mask/