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Healthy people do not need breathing masks – according to the WHO

Update from June 5, 2020: WHO recommends wearing cloth masks to prevent the virus from spreading. 

The fear of the coronavirus is so great that many people buy empty supermarkets and pharmacies. The further the corona epidemic spreads, the more people are hoarding respiratory masks. The high demand is also driving up prices. The great interest in respirators at the moment is understandable, but completely unnecessary. According to experts, only infected people and medical personnel should wear such masks. Hand hygiene and keeping your distance from other people come first.

Respirators are not for healthy people according to the WHO

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization (WHO), respiratory masks are not an effective way of preventing the disease for healthy people. Surgical masks are uncomfortable, so you may need to adjust and touch them with your hands frequently. Or you can pull it over your chin to eat, drink or smoke and then put it back on. This fails to serve the purpose and increases the risk of infection.

When should you use a mask? (according to WHO)

Woman wears respirator in public

– If you are healthy, you only need to wear a mask if you are caring for someone with a suspected Covid-2019 infection.

– Wear a mask when you cough or sneeze.

– Masks are only effective when used in combination with frequent hand washing or disinfecting.

– When wearing a mask, you need to know how to use it and how to properly dispose of it!

If you in close contact with an infected person standing, a mask reduces the risk of the disease being passed on. If you are showing symptoms of a coronavirus or have been diagnosed, wearing a mask can protect others as well. Masks are therefore vital for health and social workers caring for patients, and are also recommended for family members who need to care for someone who is sick – ideally, both the patient and the caregiver should have a mask. It does not make sense if you only walk through the city with a face mask and are 2 meters away from other people.

Wearing masks in public

There are now some cases in which people have become infected from patients who have apparently not yet had any symptoms. The incubation period of the coronavirus is 2 to 14 days. On average, it takes 5 to 6 days from the moment you become infected to the time symptoms first appear. If you suspect you may have been infected, but are not showing any symptoms yet, it would make sense to wear a mask to protect others. Correct use of the mask is of crucial importance.

How useful is it to wear respiratory protection masks

Both the surgical masks as well as the N95 respirators should only be used once and then disposed of. Medical personnel use a new mask for each patient, in part because the masks can be contaminated by viruses during use. But since masks are in short supply, consumers could be tempted to use them again and possibly spread the virus to other surfaces or objects. To prevent this possibility, healthcare workers clean their hands every time they remove a mask.

Woman wears cloth mask and waits at the bus stop

As for the washable cloth masks that are available for sale, there is evidence that reusable masks are not the best option. A 2015 study by the BMJ found that health care workers who use cloth masks are more likely to be infected with respiratory diseases than those who use surgical disposable masks, even if workers wash them at the end of each of their shifts. Particle penetration of cloth masks was almost 97% and of medical masks 44%. In general, the potential for contamination of such cloth masks is a real concern, especially if not properly cleaned. However, if you decide to use a reusable mask, it is advisable to wash it at a higher temperature, at least 70 – 90 degrees, and then iron it.

How should you wear the respirators and how should you dispose of them??

Do surgical respirators really protect against coronavirus

A good protective effect is only given if the face masks are used correctly. According to the WHO, the following rules should be followed:

– Before putting on the mask, disinfect your hands with an alcohol-based hand disinfectant or with liquid soap and water.

– Cover your mouth and nose with the mask. Crease the metal strip over the bridge of your nose, making sure that there are no gaps between your face and the mask.

– Avoid touching the mask during use; if you touch the mask, disinfect your hands with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer or with liquid soap and water.

– Replace the mask with a new one as soon as it is damp and do not use single-use masks twice.

– Remove the mask from the back (do not touch the front of the mask). Immediately dispose of them in a closed trash can; After that, wash your hands thoroughly with soap.

What should you do to protect yourself??

Everyone should take the following steps to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and other infections:

– Wash your hands frequently and use the recommended 20 second wash time.

– Use hand disinfectant if you cannot wash your hands – e.g. after touching a handrail, a door handle or on public transport.

– It is important not to touch your face as this is how viruses are transferred from your hands to your mouth or nose and enter your body. Is that easy to say, but difficult to do? Here are some tips to help you change this habit.

– Stay 2 meters away when walking through the supermarket or waiting in line. Avoid shaking hands. In the case of viruses that are transmitted by droplets, it is important not to get so close, not to cough up and not to have prolonged voice contact at close range. It’s best to stay at home!


World Health Organization / When and how to use a mask

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: How to protect yourself

Study in the journal BMJ on the effectiveness of cloth masks compared to medical masks