Public mask wearing is potentially beneficial as source control when worn by a person with respiratory symptoms when exposure to public spaces is unavoidable and physical distancing is not possible. However, some persons with the Coronavirus may still be healthy and asymptomatic (not having any symptoms) or may not know they are infected, unless tested for the virus.
The purpose of wearing non-medical (cloth) face masks prevent the person wearing the mask from spreading respiratory droplets when talking, sneezing, or coughing, normally referred to as source control from infected person.
In addition, potential advantages of the use of mask by healthy people in public setting include reducing potential exposure to risk from infected person during the “pre-symptomatic” period and stigmatization of individuals wearing mask for source control.
Cloth face masks are only intended to help contain the wearer’s respiratory droplets from being spread. It is therefore important to note that, this is an additional prevention strategy that should not be promoted alone.
It does therefore complement the key public health prevention strategies:
- Maintain physical distancing
- Wash hands with soap and running water or hand sanitizer
- Cough/sneezing etiquette
- Do not touch mouth, nose and eyes
Wearing cloth face mask therefore is recommended in public settings where other physical distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores, malls, public gatherings), commuters travelling in taxis and other forms of public transport. Medical masks and respirators (N95) should be reserved for health care workers.
The features of masks should be taken into considerations by suppliers:
- Number of layers
- Breathability of material used
- Water repellence/ hydrophobic qualities
- Shape and fit of mask
Other considerations for use of cloth masks
- Masks must not be exchanged. Every individual should have their own mask not to share or exchange with others. (The mask could be marked on the ties)
- Do not use cloth mask immediately after buying. Only use a mask that has been washed (using water and a mild detergent) and ironed.
- Mask should be washed regularly (e.g., daily and whenever soiled). Masks should be washed with soap and hot water, rinsed thoroughly dried and ironed.
- Masks should not be placed on young children under age 2, anyone who has difficulty in breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance.
- Place the mask carefully, ensuring it covers the mouth and nose, and tie it securely to minimize any gaps between the face and the mask.
- Replace masks as soon as they become damp with a new clean, dry mask.