How to wear your homemade mask

Health NGO Right to Care, which is supporting the Department of Health with its coronavirus response, is calling on all South Africans to wear masks when leaving home.

“South African citizens must wear cloth masks, not only because we have to comply, but also because it could protect other people if you are infected but not aware of it,” explains Dr Eula Mothibi, executive director at Right to Care, who also manages Right to Care International. “A mask is one of the layers of protection against the spread of the virus.”

She adds that there is sufficient evidence indicating how masks can help. “The latest data indicates that there are fewer infections in countries in Asia, where wearing a mask is commonplace.”

Minister of Health Dr Zweli Mkhize instructed all South Africans to wear cloth masks last week. The public were initially discouraged from wearing masks to ensure that supplies were available for health workers.

Mothibi says the jury is out on how effective they are in protecting the wearer against the virus. “There is not a lot of evidence, but studies show it could stop you infecting others if you are unknowingly infected. In addition, the mask acts as a barrier to touching your face, which can lower the risk of contracting the virus from contaminated surfaces. Rather be safe than sorry and wear a mask. The guideline is that cloth masks should have three layers, but if you only have a cloth mask with one layer, it is still better than nothing.”

She encourages the public to wear only cloth masks and leave surgical and N95 masks for healthcare workers who need them daily when they work with infected patients.

Don’t infect yourself – how to put a mask on and take it off

Mothibi emphasises that it is very important to put your mask on and take it off in the right way to ensure that you do not become infected in the process. She recommends these steps when putting it on:

• Wash your hands with soap and water.
• Take the mask by the strings or elastics and fit these behind your ears or head without touching the mask itself. The mask must cover your mouth and your nose completely but must not be so tight that you cannot speak comfortably.

When taking the mask off, follow these steps:
• Wash your hands with soap and water.
• Take the mask off by the strings and be careful not to touch the mask. Do not wear it more than once without washing it.
• Drop the mask into hot soapy water and wash it. Hang it in the sun to dry and preferably iron it to ensure the virus does not survive.

Ideally, have more than one mask, so that you can use one while the other is being washed.

Do not lower your mask when speaking, coughing or sneezing, and do not touch it when it is on. The inner side of the mask should not be touched by your hands. Polyester or nylon are ideal fabrics for masks. There should be very small spaces between the fibres and the fabric should not allow liquids to move though them easily.

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