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Covid-19: The reality about masks

health talk:with Dr Johannes Marisa

Coronavirus has tormented us to the extent that fake scientists, traditional doctors and prophets have mushroomed in the last few months, some with bizarre concoctions they claim would wipe the virus away. Some thought taking lemons was the best while others believed in vinegar. All these have not been proven to be effective. However, masks have been shown to reduce transmission of the virus as droplets are blocked to and from the next person. Our country, therefore, adopted this important public health measure in order to contain the Covid-19, which has so far claimed over 300 000 lives in the world with the United States losing more than 85 000 people.

Zimbabwe remains relatively safe with 42 confirmed cases and only four deaths as of Friday. The government gazetted Statutory Instrument 83 of 2020 that prohibits individuals from leaving their home or to be in public space without a face mask. This, therefore, means that anyone found in public places without a mask will be committing a crime and will be liable to pay a fine up to level 12 or to imprisonment for a period that does not exceed one year. It has been a war in some high-density suburbs in Harare as police tried to enforce this. Fines of up to $500 have been paid and at least many people are now following the order.

Can face masks help prevent the spread of coronavirus?

Yes, face masks help in combating the spread of the virus. It should be noted that the prevention is significant if combined with other public health measures like frequent hand washing and social distancing that all help slow the spread of the virus. Always make sure you wash your hands with soap and water or alcohol-based sanitisers if you need to clean your hands. There are so many people, who are asymptomatic of Covid-19, but with great potential to unknowingly spread the virus to others hence wearing of masks is of great importance to reduce the transmission.

What are the common types of masks available?

Surgical masks
These are also called medical masks. These are loose-fitting disposable masks that protect the wearer’s nose and mouth from droplets, splashes and sprays that may contain germs. Surgical masks filter out large particles in the air and may protect others by reducing exposure to the saliva and respiratory secretions of the mask wearer.

N95 masks

N95 masks offer greater protection than the surgical masks because they can filter out both large and small particles. The masks are designed to block 95% of the very small particles. Like surgical masks, N95 masks are intended to be disposable, but they have been shown to be washable and can be reused in low resource places. An N95 mask helps protect the wearer from getting the virus from others so it stands a better way in protecting you. Comparing with cloth and surgical masks, N95 masks are the best.

Cloth masks

Because of economic factors, cloth masks have become the dominant masks in Zimbabwe because of affordability and reusability. The cloth masks are being made from linen, sheets, towels or any other material deemed necessary. Common sense suggests that some protection is better than none, hence it is better to have something covering your face and nose than walking exposed. A cloth mask is thus put to protect others in case the wearer has the virus by blocking the flow of droplets from sneezing, coughing or talking. They, however, offer very little protection from getting the virus from others.
Putting on a mask

Many people do not know that they can have self-contamination when putting on masks or taking them off. Correct steps should be taken if we are to remain safe, especially with Covid-19. Below are some of the important pointers:

lPlace your mask over your mouth and nose.

lTie it behind your head or use ear loops and make sure it is snug.

lDo not touch your mask while wearing it.

lIf you accidentally touch your mask, wash or sanitise your hands.

lRemove your mask by untying it or lifting off the ear loops without touching the front of the mask or your face.

lWash your hands immediately after removing your masks.

NB: Do not put masks on anyone who has trouble breathing or is unconscious or who is unable to remove the mask without help. Avoid masks in children who are below two years of age and remember masks are not substitutes for social distancing or good hygiene.

Let us not forget to pray. Our living God is always with us as He has offered us relentless protection against Covid-19!

lDr Johannes Marisa is a medical practitioner who can be accessed on doctormarisa@gmail.com or WhatsApp 0772859391

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