Not sure which face mask to invest in? Our in-house pharmacist Melissa Jaeger gives us the lowdown on the masks that could make a difference during COVID
While masks aren’t mandatory across the whole of Australia, it’s been advised that anyone stepping outside their home into a public space should consider a face covering to prevent further spread of COVID-19.
Wearing a mask significantly lowers the chances of germs spreading when you sneeze, talk, laugh, cough or even yawn. In essence, it works as an additional protective barrier that helps to keep you and others around you safe.
We know how important face masks are when it comes to stopping the spread of illness. But with so much information out there — from “Doctor Google” to government advertisements to the glut of COVID-19. media coverage — it can be frustrating to know which recommendations are the right ones.
So if you’re looking for credible advice on which mask you should use during the COVID crisis, we spoke to our in-house pharmacist, Mel, to give her expert advice on which masks really could make a difference.
We all know how quickly this virus can spread, so do your bit to keep coronavirus under control and protect those around you. Mask up! Here are some tips on the masks to invest in and how to wear them properly.
The Differences Between Face Masks
This is the advice I give to customers in the pharmacy, and the protocols myself and other staff have adopted.
The primary function of surgical masks is to reduce particles expelled into the air by the wearer whilst talking, sneezing or coughing. To put simply, they are designed to protect others, rather than the wearer. Surgical masks cannot filter out viruses, however, as viruses are contained within these droplets, surgical masks can provide some protection for the wearer against transmission.
P2 and N95 masks are the same type of mask. P2 & N95 masks provide a higher level of protection, containing and able to filter up to 95% of fine particles and respiratory droplets when worn correctly. They are to be used when the wearer is likely to be exposed to hazards, confined spaces when social distancing is not possible e.g. public transport, visiting someone that is vulnerable or maybe infected.
When and where should you wear a mask?
In public, I would recommend a surgical mask or a 3 ply fabric mask, at minimum to be worn. Especially when commuting to and from work, going to the supermarket, or any place where social distancing cannot be practised. This is to protect yourself but also the community.
If you are at increased risk for severe illness due to COVID-19 (e.g. the elderly, chronic medication conditions), I would recommend wearing an N95 mask for essential activities.
Wearing masks are crucial in preventing the spread of COVID-19, how the mask is worn is even more important.
Hand hygiene must be performed before donning masks, when adjusting and when removing. Masks must be fitted correctly to the face to ensure a tight seal.
N95 masks are designed to sit tightly on the face, surgical masks can be harder to maintain in place. Smaller faces can have problems with masks slipping up towards the eyes. Pinching the metal edge tightly across the nose and pulling the mask firmly under the chin can assist in achieving a snug fit. The sides of a surgical mask should fit closely to the cheeks, allowing the mouth and jaw to move freely. Some masks are fastened with head loops rather than ear loops and these can be uncomfortable. I find wearing my hair in a high ponytail or bun, then placing the top loop over the hair ensures a more comfortable and secure fit.
How to wear a P2/N95 mask
Putting on and checking the mask
Take time to correctly identify which size and style of mask is suitable for you. Each time a P2/N95 face mask is used it should be fit checked before entering an unsafe environment. Fit checks ensure that the mask is sealed over the bridge of the nose and mouth and that there are no gaps in the seal between the mask and the face.
P2/N95 face masks should always be used in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.
Procedure for putting on a P2/N95 face mask and conducting a fit check
Remove glasses and hats. Tie back long hair so it does not become tangled in the straps of the respiratory protection.
Wash and sanitise hands thoroughly before touching the mask.
Put the mask on your face, ensuring the nose piece is at the top of the mask.
Place the headband or ties over the head and at the base of the neck. For earloop masks, place both loops over the ears.
Compress the mask against the face to ensure a seal across the bridge of the nose.
Compress the mask to ensure a seal across the cheeks and the face.
Conduct a fit check — check the seal of the mask by gently inhaling. If the mask is not drawn in towards the face, or air leaks around the face seal, readjust the mask and repeat process or check for defects in the mask. If the mask still leaks you may need to try a different size or style of mask.
People with beards should shave before using a P2/N95 mask as a good seal between the mask and the wearer’s face cannot be guaranteed if facial hair is in the way.
Skin irritation and breakouts are now common with the increased use of face masks. Pressure from the tight fit can cause rashes, swelling and temporary discolouration. Increased humidity and facial sweating contribute to blocked pores. I’ve struggled with breakouts along my jawline and sides of my nose. Not wearing makeup around the chin and cleansing thoroughly has improved my breakouts. Other staff apply thick moisturisers or barrier creams to help with mask rubbing.
How long do masks last?
This is one of our most asked questions. For surgical masks, they do become damp quickly with normal breathing and talking. In the pharmacy, I change mine approx. every 4-6 hours of continuous wear, and always after a meal. Surgical masks should be single-use. Many customers ask about reusing masks — we do not recommend this practice. It’s impossible to know if the mask has become contaminated even with the most careful removal.
N95 masks filters can last up to 4 hours of continual use or when they become damp from respiration. Due to the higher cost per mask, many customers are reusing after thorough hand sanitising and careful mask removal. Ideally, they should not be reused.
The wearing of masks is a crucial component in stopping the spread of Covid-19. Practising social distancing, maintaining hand hygiene and getting Covid-19 tested when there are symptoms present are vital in combatting future community infections.