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Masks for all: Protecting one another

There are divergent views on whether the use of masks in public can help to slow the spread of COVID-19. Margaret Blackie looks at the example of the Czech Republic, which to date has had one of the lowest infection rates in Europe. Its citizens adopted the use of masks within a week. Masks alone cannot stop the virus, but the principle of “I protect you; you protect me” can only help to stem its spread.

Several countries seem to have managed to substantially slow the spread of COVID-19 by implementing social distancing (which we are currently enforcing by lockdown); good hygiene (including regularly washing/sanitizing hands; coughing and sneezing into your elbow); and the wearing of face masks.

Wearing face masks has been strongly endorsed in Eastern Asia where it is part of the social norm, but the real significance comes with looking at the Czech Republic. In just over a week they managed to get everyone to wear a mask in public. They appear to have managed to reduce the rate of the spread of COVID-19 relative to other European countries. Austria is now insisting all people wear masks when they go shopping.

WATCH — Czech Republic beating coronavirus, #Masks4All // YouTube

Masks in conjunction with other preventative measures

Masks are a good starting point to partially protect against infection. But this must also be accompanied social distancing and good hygiene. Lockdown is still the right choice!

Homemade masks are not as nearly as effective as medical grade N95 masks. Wearing a mask will not guarantee that you will not get sick. But it will mean that if you are already infected but not yet feeling ill, you will reduce the likelihood of making others sick. And if you are still well, you will reduce the likelihood of breathing in the droplets from a sick person.  Please leave the N95 masks for health care workers.

READ – Covid-19: A case for why we all should wear homemade face masks, Piet Streicher // Mail & Guardian

You need to change and sanitise your homemade mask. You will need to make more than one for each member of your household. Every time you leave your home and come back you will need to sanitise your mask.

There are two options for santising your mask: You can put it into your oven at 70 degrees centigrade for 30 minutes OR boil in water for 10 minutes then put in the sun to dry. Hanging over a steaming pot for 10 minutes and then drying in the sun is also acceptable.

We all have a moral responsibility to do whatever we can to protect ourselves and others.

Now that COVID-19 has reached the townships we must make every effort to slow the spread. Masks alone are not the solution, and if they are not sanitised they will be a part of the problem. A mask that is used and reused will become a real danger to the person wearing it. Nonetheless, particularly for those living in the townships it offers a small reduction in the risk of infection.

Different countries are offering different advice on mask wearing. The need to sanitise the masks regularly cannot be overstated. Nonetheless, because the main mode of transmission is droplet infection rather than an airborne pathogen this may help slow the spread even though a homemade is technically permeable by the virus.

Making your own mask

And you can make a mask from pretty much anything. If you would like to make masks for your neighbours that would be a wonderful gesture of kindness but make sure you make at least two for each person.

Here is a link to a pattern, but several layers of material over your nose and mouth which can be sanitized regularly with be better than nothing.  We all have a moral responsibility to do whatever we can to protect ourselves and others.

* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.

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Margaret Blackiehttp://www.magsblackie.com/
Dr Margaret Blackie is a senior lecturer in the Department of Chemistry and Polymer Science at Stellenbosch University. She is also a spiritual director and author of two books: ‘Rooted in Love’ and ‘The Grace of Forgiveness’.

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