COVID-19 precautions: Six common and dangerous mistakes you may make while wearing a face mask
SARS-CoV-2 can stay active on surfaces for quite a while and touching your face or mask is a bad habit that can increase transmission risks.
When COVID-19 was declared a pandemic in March 2020, masks and face covers became popular out of necessity very quickly. At first — given the information available — everyone wanted an N95 mask as those were the varieties assumed to provide the best protection against the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
But then the World Health Organisation (WHO) and other institutions like the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) recommended the use of masks or face cover made of breathable fabric with at least three layers, suggesting they could effectively reduce transmission risk of COVID-19 .
Once this became common knowledge, the market was flooded with a variety of trendy triple-layered masks and the internet had myriads of DIY mask videos to help you make a face cover at home. The availability issue was therefore swiftly resolved within a month or two. But that does not mean that the transmission of COVID-19 in India was arrested.
Wearing a mask wrong is also an endemic
Pinning down and rooting out the reasons behind India’s current fifth position among the world’s worst-hit countries is definitely a job for the government and scientists. Your responsibility, on the other hand, is to adhere to the social distancing and hygiene norms set by these authorities.
While this sounds good on paper, it is not being practised. Even though most people around you might be wearing a mask or homemade face cover, many of them are not wearing it right. Now, if there’s anything that defeats the entire purpose of wearing a face cover, it’s the following six mistakes that those around you — and yes, even you — might be making. Take a look at the list below, check yourself and those around you, and lend a hand in arresting the spread of COVID-19 .
1. Your mask is too big/too small
It looks pretty and is breathable, especially in the humid Indian summer and so you wear it. But is your mask barely covering your nose and chin? Is it maybe a bit too loose at the edges? Is it slightly big, obstructing your vision, and making you adjust it repeatedly? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then your mask is either too big or too small, and it’s not for you. When it comes to masks, go with the Goldilocks rule: it has to be just right, i.e. perfectly fitted.
2. You keep adjusting the mask
You’re just occasionally adjusting the mask, removing that sweat bead or hair from it, or moving it a little to make breathing a little easier? It may be a tiny adjustment but it’s still wrong to do it. SARS-CoV-2 can stay active on surfaces for quite a while and touching your face or mask is a bad habit that can increase transmission risks. Next time you adjust your mask, think about what else you’ve touched before and after it. Or better still, stop touching the cloth area of your mask completely.
3. Your nose is exposed
SARS-CoV-2 enters the body through the mucous membranes in the eyes, nose and mouth -- this is common knowledge now. And yet, there are people who leave their nose exposed while wearing a mask. Yes, it’s hot outside and a three-layered cover on your nose can make you feel stuffy and dizzy, especially when you’re out for your walk/jog. But not covering your nose and mouth with a mask while actually wearing one in the middle of a pandemic is like not wearing a mask at all.
4. You remove the mask to talk
Remember droplet transmission? Now that doesn’t happen only when you cough or sneeze but can also occur when you talk. Yes, being audible — especially on the phone — while you’re wearing a mask can be difficult. But when you pull down the mask to talk you’re not only exposing yourself to droplet transmission but also surface transmission because you’re touching the outside surface of your mask (where droplets may have settled earlier) without any protection.
5. You remove the mask the wrong way
Hold the straps of the mask resting behind your ears or head, and gently take it off to sanitise it or dispose of it immediately. Removing your mask properly is as simple as that, and it ensures that you don’t increase your risk of infection. If you’re removing it any other way, you’re doing it wrong.
6. You keep switching sides
Whether you’re wearing a face cover or mask, remember to adjust the pliable metal nose piece before stepping out. If you’re wearing a face cover, remember which side is out and which side is in, and stick to it. Change sides in the middle of the day and any virus or bacteria that might have settled on the outside will surely enter your body. Make sure your nose is fully covered and your face cover or mask extends beyond your chin.
For more information, read our article on How useful are masks against COVID-19 and how to use them.
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