People in lockdown areas or high risk areas such as in metropolitan Melbourne, if required to go out for the 4 reasons you are allowed to leave home, are encouraged now to wear facial masks in crowded outdoor areas such as shopping in supermarkets to prevent community transmission of COVID-19. However, when putting on a mask we need to put it on and take it off safely and appropriately.

Avoid touching the mask during use or when removing as any droplets on the surface can contaminate the hands, especially when masks are pulled down or removed to consume food or drink. Masks are no longer effective if they become damp or damaged. Once used they cannot be sterilised and should be safely discarded. Only appropriate cloth masks can be washed in hot water and re-used.

How to put on a face mask on safely [reference Australian Government Department of Health website]:
♦ Wash your hands before putting on the mask;
♦ Make sure it covers your nose and mouth and fits snugly under your chin, over the bridge of your nose and against the sides of your face;
♦ Do not touch the front of the mask while it is on or when removing it (and if you do so accidentally, wash or clean your hands immediately);
♦ Wash your hands after removing the mask; and
♦ People with chronic respiratory conditions should seek medical advice before using a mask.

Remember, facial masks are not a replacement to protect ourselves and others in COVID-19. We still need to maintain physical distance, rigorous hand hygiene, sneeze and cough etiquette. If you have any symptoms, no matter how mild, stay home – don’t go to work or school and get tested for COVID19.

READ MORE: Mask and hand hygiene protect against COVID-19: Prof Kotsirilos

There are precautions to take when wearing masks:
1. Continue physical distancing and good hand hygiene. Do not trust masks alone as it can give a false sense of security.
2. Take the mask off carefully and do not touch the outer surface that may have been exposed to infected droplets.
3. Buy proper disposable surgical masks from reliable outlets e.g. pharmacies and post-offices. Many commercially available masks are of low quality and not effective.
4. Ensure they are tight fitting
5. Single-use masks should be discarded – avoid re-using disposable surgical masks.
6. Specialised masks such as P2 or N95 masks should not be used as they are difficult to take on and off without contaminating hands, are expensive and not as accessible.
7. Cloth facial masks are great, better for the environment and easy to make. They can be purchased on the internet. They should be made with at least 3-4 layers, have a fine weave and must fit snugly around your face. Wash cloth facial masks in hot water every day after use. Care is required to remove them carefully and avoid touching the outer and inner surface of the mask.
Cloth masks recyclable and kinder to the environment than disposable masks.  In addition, hot water kills the virus – so cleaning the masks in hot water and detergent will make them safe a process.

Click on this Victorian Government link on how to make your own masks.

Sources: The Conversation; P2 or making suitable masks

Professor Vicki Kotsirilos AM MBBS, FACNEM, FASLM, Awarded Honorary Fellowship of the RACGP is an Associate Professor at La Trobe and Western Sydney Universities.

Associate Professor Vicki Kotsirilos AM sans mask. Photo: Supplied