New Delhi: The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is spreading its wings in India, taking the total number of active cases to 415 including foreign nationals. As of Monday (March 23), 24 individuals infected with the coronavirus have been cured and discharged whereas eight casualties have been reported. With the increase in spread and the fear of contracting the virus, numerous myths, doubts and queries have surfaced. One of the common questions is whether or not face masks act as a safety barrier? If it does, then what kind of mask one should opt for? NDTV speaks to experts to get all the questions answered.
Talking about the widely used surgical mask or medical mask, Dr Neeraj Nishchal, professor at AIIMS in Delhi, said,
Surgical mask is not going to prevent you from getting coronavirus if you are using it left, right and centre. This mask is meant for those who have symptoms – to prevent the virus from spreading to others or for those who are closely helping out these infected patients. So if you are healthy, don’t have any symptoms and still wearing a mask, it is not going to prevent you from getting the infection.
Echoing the same Dr Rajesh Parikh, Director Medical Research and Neuropsychiatrist at Jaslok Hospital and Research Centre said,
Masks will not prevent you from contracting the infection. In fact, they give you a false sense of security. You feel that you have a mask so you may not retain the appropriate distance and you may not take the usual precautions.
But if someone has symptoms and needs to wear a mask then what kind of mask should they buy? Elaborating on the kind of masks to use, Dr Rajesh said,
If somebody has even mild symptoms, they should immediately wear a mask, preferably N95 or N99 mask of any brand and isolate themselves from everyone and stay in a room. If they need to be around people, they should maintain a social distance of six feet.
As per American guidelines, N95 and N99 are the two prescribed quality of masks. What needs to be noted, even these masks don’t guarantee full protection from the virus. N95 and N99 are percentage of toxic particles blocked by a mask. While a N95 designation mask will stop 95 per cent of the germs and viruses, N99 will block 99 per cent of the particles.
Further elaborating on the things to keep in mind while using a mask, Dr Rajesh said,
An individual wearing a mask needs to get used to it and avoid touching the face. It’s easier said than done, but is crucial to follow. When we wear a mask, we either keep adjusting it or fix our glasses and in general also, we have the habit of touching our face. Under such situation, we should either use a tissue or handkerchief to touch anything on our face. Also, when we cough into mask, it gets wet and it needs to be disposed off immediately which means replacing it every two hour. Ideally, a mask needs to be incinerated but since that cannot be done at a household level, throw it in a separate bag which needs to be tied tightly and labeled medical waste so that when the municipal body collects the waste, they know it needs to be incinerated.
The benefits of wearing a mask if you have symptoms or are around someone who is infected completely nullifies if a mask is neither worn nor used properly. Explaining the correct way of wearing a mask, Christine Francis, Consultant, Infection Prevention and Control at the World Health Organisation (WHO) headquarters, in a video posted on WHO’s website said,
Medical masks cannot protect against the novel coronavirus when used alone. When you wear them, you must combine them with hand hygiene and other preventive measures. If you decide to wear a medical mask, it is important to wear and discard it correctly otherwise instead of protecting you, the mask becomes the source of infection because of the germs that may stay on it. To wear the mask correctly, you should locate the metal strip at the top of the mask, place it over your nose bridge, and secure the elastics around your ears or tie the strings behind your head. Make sure it covers your nose, mouth and chin. While in use, do not touch the front of your mask. To remove the mask, take the elastics from around your ears or untie the strings behind your head. Do not touch the front of the mask as it may be contaminated. Remove the mask and discard in a closed bin. Cleanse your hands with alcohol, hand rub or soap and water. Hand hygiene should be done if you accidentally touch the front of your mask while wearing it. If your mask becomes damp or humid, replace it with a new dry mask. Never reuse single-use masks and discard them immediately into closed bins after each use.
There is a common misconception that one needs to have a mask to protect themselves from the infectious diseases. The result of this is visible with pharmacies running out of all kinds of masks. Giving a word of advice, Dr Rajesh said,
Stop buying those masks; they are useful for patients and healthcare workers. By buying masks, hoarding them and driving them out of the market, we are taking it away from people who really need them. If the people who need these masks don’t have them, they will contract the infection, they will spread it and it will come around.
India’s Fight Against Coronavirus
To contain the spread of coronavirus, 80 cities including Delhi, Mumbai, Noida, Ghaziabad, Kolkata, Chennai and Bengaluru have announced a complete lockdown till March 31. The states going into lockdown include those where coronavirus cases have been reported – Maharashtra, Kerala, Delhi, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Karnataka, Telangana, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh, West Bengal, Chandigarh, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Puducherry and Uttarakhand.
Talking about why the precautionary measures and lockdown which is till March 31, Dr Rajesh said,
These deadlines are not print in stone. The idea of the deadline being till March 31 is for us to see how the situation unfolds until then. It’s very likely that it will be extended but we have to wait and see. So, please don’t make plans to travel on April 1 or 2 assuming that miraculously everything is going to settle down by the end of the month.
Disclaimer: This content including advice provides generic information only. It is in no way a substitute for a qualified medical opinion. Always consult a specialist or your own doctor for more information. NDTV does not claim responsibility for this information.