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Since the breakout of Coronavirus towards the end of 2019, the disease has spread all across the world infecting millions of people and taking the lives of hundreds of thousands. Even though at present, a few Covid-19 vaccines have started to roll out, the virus is still very much with us.
One of the most effective ways of fighting the spread of the coronavirus is by wearing a surgical mask. As you might have learned by now, the virus mainly affects the respiratory system and is transmitted through the communication of respiratory droplets disseminated through coughing, talking, or sneezing.
While they may not be sufficient to stop the disease’s spread, surgical masks are definitely at the forefront of the fight. However, there has been a lot of controversy and confusion regarding the public’s use of face covering, moreso the disposable kind such as surgical masks.
This article will explain what a surgical mask is, how efficient they are in preventing the spread of Covid-19, and how long you should use one before disposal.
Table of Contents
What Is a Surgical Mask?
Also known as a medical mask, a surgical mask is a loose piece of clothing designed to cover the nose, mouth, and chin of the wearer. Although surgical masks were initially designed to be worn by healthcare professionals, because of the current epidemic, they can be worn by everyone as a concerted measure to curb the spread of coronavirus.
The main uses of surgical masks include:
- To protect the face of the wearer from sprays, splashes, and any other potentially harmful particles such as droplets.
- To protect the transmission of an infectious virus from an infected person to others.
Surgical masks (just like many other products) slightly vary in design. However, you’ll find certain features that are standard across. For instance, surgical masks are generally rectangular in shape, with two or three wrinkles/folds in between the covers.
To grip firmly around the nose, the top part of the mask has a metal strip that can curve with ease to accommodate the nose shape of the wearer.
So that the mask remains firmly on the face, it comes fitted with elastic bands that help hold the mask in place when worn. These bands can either be looped behind the ear or tied behind the head.
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How Effective Are Surgical Masks and for How Long Should They Be Worn
One of the issues the public has had in regards to wearing face coverings in public is their efficacy in protecting them from Covid-19 infection.
As for surgical masks, just like other masks in the market, are effective in preventing the transmission of Covid-19. How so?
Well for starters, the mask covers the face and the mouth. It may not be a tight fit as the one provided by N95 and KN95 masks but it’s close proximity to the face helps limit the flow of respiratory particles.
Also, the material of the mask comes with two thin clothing pieces with microfibers that trap microsized particles thus limiting their penetration both inward and outward.
In light of this, since surgical masks cannot be washed for reuse like cloth masks, for how long should a surgical mask be used?
According to The World Health Organization (WHO), surgical masks should only be worn for a maximum of 6 hours. However, this duration can vary depending on the prevalence of the virus within your local community.
Scientists have proceeded to label surgical masks as one-time-use tools. This means that you should only use a medical mask once after which it should be disposed of carefully. You should dispose of a surgical mask appropriately by wrapping it in a disposable bag and throwing it in the trash.
Who Should Wear a Surgical Mask?
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the WHO, a surgical mask and any other facial protective cover against Covid-19 should always be worn in public by anyone above the age of 2. At the same time, healthcare workers and anyone involved in providing care especially to high-risk patients such as the elderly should wear a surgical mask.
People who’ve been recently tested, feel mild symptoms, or have been tested positive with Covid-19 should also wear a surgical mask.
How to Wear a Surgical Mask
The truth is a protective mask is only as good as you wear it. Since the concept of wearing face coverings in public is relatively foreign especially in most parts of the world, a lot of people are not wearing them correctly which leaves them susceptible to infection.
Here are a few pointers to help you wear a surgical mask properly.
- Before picking your surgical mask, it’s of utmost importance that you first clean your hands; you can do this by cleaning your hands with soap and water or using an alcohol-based sanitizer.
- Carefully pick your mask by the strings and place your mask against your mouth and nose. Make sure that your mask’s white side is on the inside and the blue (or green) part on the outside.
- Place the ear bands on either ear and try to avoid touching the fabric surface of your mask while you wear it for extra safety.
Remember to Wear a Surgical Mask When Out in Public
Surgical masks have been in use for about a century but today, they play a vital role in the prevention of coronavirus. The CDC recommends that people wear a mask at all times when in public to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.
A surgical mask will prevent you from spreading the virus if you’re unknowingly infected (asymptomatic). It will also protect you from inhaling or coming into contact with carrier respiratory particles.
Remember to remove your surgical mask after around 6 to 8 hours of wearing it and be sure to dispose of it carefully to avoid possibly infecting others.