Does wearing a mask protect you from Covid-19?

If you are coughing, sneezing, or have difficulty breathing, you do need to wear a mask and also seek medical care immediately. (Rawpixel pic)

Many people around the world have started adopting the habit of wearing a face mask to protect themselves against Covid-19, more commonly known as coronavirus.

But, do these masks actually work? Here is the advice from the World Health Organisation on when and how to use a mask.

When to use a mask

  • The WHO says if you are healthy, then you do not need to wear a mask. There is no evidence that they protect people who are not sick.
  • If you are coughing, sneezing, or have difficulty breathing, then you do need to wear a mask and also seek medical care.
  • You also need to wear a mask if you are taking care of a person who is suspected to have Covid-19 whenever you are in the same room as them.
  • However, medical masks cannot protect against Covid-19 alone. When wearing a mask, you still need to practice good hand hygiene, and make sure you clean your hands frequently with soap and water or an alcohol hand rub.
  • If you are not ill or looking after someone who is ill, then you are wasting a mask. There is a world-wide shortage of masks, so WHO is urging people to use masks wisely.
  • WHO also emphasises that the most effective ways to protect yourself and others against Covid-19 are to frequently clean your hands, cough into the bend of your elbow or a tissue (not your hands) and maintain a distance of at least 1 metre from people who are coughing or sneezing.

How to use a mask

  • If you do wear a mask, then you have to know how to use it, wear it and dispose of it properly. Otherwise, instead of protecting you, the mask actually becomes a source of infection as it can collect germs. The WHO also stresses that masks are effective only when used in combination with frequent hand-washing or when using an alcohol-based hand rub if soap and water are not available.
  • Before touching the mask, clean your hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Inspect the mask for tears or holes before you use it.
  • Cover your mouth, nose, and chin with the mask and make sure there are no gaps between your face and the mask.
  • Do not touch the front of your mask while wearing it. If you do accidentally touch it, make sure to clean your hands.
  • After using the mask, take it off by removing the elastic loops from behind the ears without touching the front of the mask and while keeping it away from your face and clothes, to avoid touching potentially contaminated surfaces of the mask.
  • Put the mask in a closed bin immediately after taking it off. Then, clean your hands again.
  • Wearing a mask doesn’t mean you can continue to touch your face, and you must avoid touching the mask while using it. If you do touch the mask, clean your hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub.
  • If the mask becomes damp, it must be replaced with a new, dry mask straight away.
  • Do not re-use single-use masks.

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