Coronavirus: What are the guidelines for using a mask in the UAE?

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Dubai: It’s official now: The recommendation to wear masks when you set out to the supermarket, pharmacy or your workplace, if you are an essential services worker that is.

The three pleats of the 3 ply face mask pointing downwards
Image Credit: Agency

But as demand for masks – and hand gloves – suddenly shoots up across the UAE (by an estimated six to eight times), several questions remain about how they provide protection, what kind of masks are to be worn, what is the correct way to use them, how and where they should be discarded and whether they can be reused?

Gulf News spoke to three experts – Dr Salvin George, Specialist Internal Medicine at Medcare Hospital; Dr Arun Goyal, Associate Medical Director at RAK Hospital and Stefan Sickel, Senior Director Supply Chain, Mediclinic Middle East — to get some answers. A look at their prescribed dos and don’ts:

The DOs first

1. To begin with, put on that mask: It’s essential when you go out. Why? Because it helps block large-particle droplets, splashes or splatter that may contain bacteria or viruses and acts as a filter preventing them from entering or leaving your nose and mouth.

2. Get the type of mask you need: Broadly, what’s available in the market are the common single and 3 ply surgical masks and the more expensive N-95 masks. If you’re not a health care worker or feeling unwell yourself, you don’t always need the N-95 mask. Just go with a 3 ply surgical mask.

3. Know the difference: It all boils down to the quality and grade of filter. An N95 mask is a respiratory protective device designed for a close facial fit and efficient filtration of airborne particles and is usually used by doctors, nurses. The ‘N95’ denotes its ability to block at least 95 per cent of very small (0.3 micron) test particles. A 3ply surgical mask is loose-fit and contains a high-level static filtration non-woven middle layer to effectively block particles.

A typical N-95 mask
Image Credit: Pixabay

4. Wash your hands before you slip on the mask: If you touch the mask with dirty hands, the purpose of using the mask is clearly lost. Take out the mask from the box and handle it with the elastic ear loops.

5. Make sure the pleats point downwards: Notice the three pleats on the 3ply mask – the pleats should open downwards when you wear the mask, not the other way round as particles can’t lodge themselves inside the pleats.

6. Know when to take it off: Remove and discard the mask if it gets moist, soiled or damaged. Again used washed hands while removing it.

7. Wrap it up before binning it: After removing the mask, fold it inwards and wrap it in a tissue before discarding it in a closed bin.

8. Wash your hands again: This is a must, else the whole purpose of protecting yourself could be lost.

Now for the DON’Ts

1. Never touch the mask on its surfaces: This is true for both the inside and the outside of the mask to avoid contamination. The mask must necessarily be handled with the elastic loops.

2. Don’t keep adjusting the mask: By repeatedly touching the mask on your face, you will only be doing yourself a disservice.

Masks should not be thrown anywhere other than in a dustbin. They should be folded in, wrapped in a tissue or paper before being discarded
Image Credit: Photo for illustrative purpose only

3. Don’t let anyone else touch it too: Again the purpose is lost if you let that happen.

4. Don’t use a mask for too long: The average life span of a dry mask is eight hours when it is in a good condition. Of course, if it gets moist or damaged earlier, just take it out.

5. Don’t yank the mask out: As we breathe in, the exterior of the mask may harbour particles which could be potentially infectious. So removing the mask carefully is important.

6. Never leave the mask lying around: Removing the mask and leaving it on the table on a counter is a complete no-no, whether at home or outside as it can spread infection.

7. Resist from reuse: Most masks are disposable (unless otherwise mentioned in some cases) and they must be discarded after every use. Monitor extended use as well, as you should change the mask when it becomes wet or damaged.

8. Don’t trash the mask anywhere other than the dustbin: Yes, a closed bin is the only place where a used mask, duly wrapped in a tissue, should go.

What about hand gloves?

Disposable gloves, like latex or vinyl, are being widely used by residents while using elevator buttons or shopping for groceries. Ideally, they should not have any pores in them, but in case they do, they cannot provide fool-proof protection.

A man wearing gloves while shopping for groceries. For illustrative purpose only
Image Credit: AP

In any case, experts caution again a false sense of security.

If you use your hands, with the gloves on, to touch your face, you remain at risk. So the key is to wash your hands, both before and after using the gloves.

Also, never reuse a pair of gloves, it’s a bad idea.

And finally, discard the gloves safely in a bin after wrapping them up in paper.

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