Inside homes, offices, vehicles and in the streets, there has been a growing trend of people wearing surgical masks amid confusion, fear, misinformation and anxiety generated by the spread of Covid-19.
The white or blue masks that hide the mouth and nose thereby turning people into a muzzled pelican is also becoming a fashion statement.
The masks began appearing almost immediately after Covid-19 infection was identified, first in China where masks were already common, and then in Europe and now they are everywhere.
The masks represent safety and protection from disease and pollution while in some cases they can represent solidarity, protest, racism, a fashion trend and now, pandemic.
Health and Child Care permanent secretary Dr Agnes Mahomva said in a statement recently that the masks are effective when used in combination with good personal hygiene.
“The Ministry would like to advise the nation that masks are effective only when used in combination with frequent hand-cleaning with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water. If you decide to use a mask, cover your mouth and nose, and make sure that there are no gaps between your face and the mask. Avoid touching the mask while using it; if you do, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water. If masks are not used correctly, they can be a source of infection,” she said.
The Ministry, Dr Mahomva said, continues to be on high alert to the Covid-19 pandemic and would like to remind the nation that, the most effective ways to protect yourself and others against Covid-19 are to, frequently clean your hands with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand rub, cover your nose and mouth with tissue paper or flexed elbow when coughing and sneezing, maintain a distance of at least 1 metre from people who are coughing or sneezing, avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
Dr Mahomva said during this Lockdown period, and in line with guidance from World Health Organisation (WHO), the Ministry is prioritising finding, testing, isolation, and treatment of every case in the country as well as tracing every contact as key strategies to identify all suspected cases and minimise community spread of Covid- 19.
Gweru Provincial Hospital medical superintendent Dr Fabian Mashingaidze said masks are not recommended for the general public because, they can be contaminated by other people’s coughs and sneezes.
“Frequent hand-washing and social distancing are more effective. Masks might offer a false sense of security. Covid-19 is spread by droplets that can spray into the air when those infected talk, cough and sneeze. These can enter the body through the eyes, nose and mouth, either directly or after touching a contaminated object,” he said.
Mpilo Central Hospital’s clinical director Dr Solwayo Ngwenya said masks are used by health workers adding that members of the public can use masks whenever they feel like it.
“Masks durability depends on manufacturer, wearing surgical gloves in public is not recommended but washing of hands is crucial,” he said.
According to WHO persons with respiratory symptoms or those caring for Covid-19 patients at home are the ones that should use masks.
The WHO recommends keeping a distance of at least 1m from anyone coughing or sneezing to avoid the risk of infection.
It emphasises that masks are only effective if combined with frequent hand-washing and used and disposed of properly.
“People who are sick and show symptoms should wear masks. For persons without symptoms, wearing a mask of any type is not recommended. Wearing medical masks when they are not indicated may cause unnecessary cost and a procurement burden and create a false sense of security that can lead to the neglect of other essential preventive measures,” according to WHO website.
When and how to wear medical masks to protect against Covid-19
Before putting on a mask, clean hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
Cover mouth and nose with mask and make sure there are no gaps between your face and the mask.
Avoid touching the mask while using it; if you do, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
Replace the mask with a new one as soon as it is damp and do not re-use single-use masks.
To remove the mask: remove it from behind (do not touch the front of mask); discard immediately in a closed bin; clean hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.