Coronavirus: Are you wearing your face mask correctly?

Authorities launch campaign against non-compliance with safety measures as 'face mask fatigue' sets in

Face coverings have become a staple of daily life for the past six months to restrict the spread of Covid-19.

But clear signs of “face mask fatigue” have begun to creep into society.

Masks are mandatory in all public places across the country, with a Dh3,000 fine awaiting anyone who does not adhere to safety regulations.

From teachers and pupils wearing masks during lessons, to coverings being worn by the beach – face masks have become as ubiquitous as leaving the house with your keys, wallet and phone.

But if the number of public fines handed out to those wandering the streets without covering-up is anything to go by, some are losing patience.

In the first two weeks of September, police handed out more than 24,000 fines for breaking rules designed to limit the spread of Covid-19.

Most of those were given to people either without masks or to those wearing them incorrectly, around their chin or under the nose. People in Dubai were responsible for most offences.

Dr Brijesh Bhardwaj, internal medicine specialist at NMC Royal Hospital in DIP, said complacency had crept in, leading to incorrect application of face coverings in some cases.

“The mask should cover the nose, mouth and chin and avoid touching the front surface when putting it on,” he said.

“If masks are temporarily removed and placed on a table, that surface could be contaminated so a mask should be sanitised before it is reapplied.

“Cloth masks can offer protection, but they need to be washed regularly, ideally after every 24 hours.

“Masks are now part of our day to day dressing, without them we feel something is missing.

“That will continue for the duration of the pandemic until two thirds of the population has been vaccinated against the virus.”

How a face mask can protect you from Covid-19

Masks will only work if worn correctly. If an infected person sneezes, coughs or talks loudly without a covering, droplets are sprayed into the air.

If your nose and mouth is poking out of the mask, you risk infecting those around you.

Not wearing a mask correctly is particularly a risk for asymptomatic carriers of the virus. They may not know they are infected, yet continue to spread the virus to others who may be more vulnerable to serious symptoms of Covid-19. By minimising the gaps around the mask, you can also reduce the chances of infection from others and from passing it on yourself.

Face masks are particularly important when social distancing is difficult, another measure that can reduce viral infections.

Hospitality and service staff working inside these areas are vulnerable to contact with many people throughout the day, so should be protected from infection as much as possible.

When removing a mask, take care not to touch the material itself and remove via the ear loops.

To ensure maximum protection, masks should be stored in a plastic container and regularly washed or disposed of if single use.

How often can I reuse a mask?

Disposable masks, including surgical masks, should only be used once before being thrown away.

Reusable cloth masks should be washed with soap and hot water after every use. This reduces the risk of spreading the coronavirus or other germs.

Masks cannot be shared and should be removed from the ear loops with clean hands, without touching the front of the mask.

When is it not safe to wear a face mask?

Scientific articles published in the British Medical Journal offer conflicting evidence to the value of wearing face masks.

As a physical shield, they are effective but researchers warned those wearing masks could be lulled into a false sense of security, believing they are fully protected from the virus while neglecting to regularly wash hands or socially distance.

Coronavirus outbreak

Inappropriate wearing of masks can also lead to people touching their face more than usual, increasing the risk of infection.

Failing to wash a mask regularly or dispose of single use masks correctly can also be a problem, scientists said.

Wearing a mask can make it difficult to converse, encouraging people to speak louder or move closer together, again putting them further at risk from the virus.

There is also a warning for those with existing respiratory conditions, such as asthma, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease or allergies who could see symptoms worsen from wearing masks for long periods as breathing is restricted.

Despite those challenges, doctors said the benefits to general population health outweighed the risks.

People with cognitive, intellectual or sensory disorders that hamper their ability to breathe or communicate and people who require supplemental oxygen or have severe respiratory conditions have been exempted from wearing face masks in the UAE. They have also been advised not to leave their homes as they are at higher risk of the virus.

Should children wear a face mask?

The World Health Organisation said it is unsafe for children to wear a face mask when playing sports or other physical activities as it could impair breathing.

Adults should also avoid wearing a mask during strenuous exercise as it can act as a barrier to air intake, lowering oxygen levels in re-circulated air resulting in possible hyperventilation and impaired brain function.

Masks also easily absorb sweat which can then harbour harmful microorganisms.

Children under six are not mandated to wear a face mask in the UAE.

Dr Ravi Arora, an internal medicine specialist at NMC Speciality Hospital in Abu Dhabi expects compulsory masks to be worn for at least six months.

“Until there is 60-70 per cent herd immunity to Covid-19, face masks will remain a crucial tool in controlling the virus,” he said.

“People may think the impact of the virus is reducing as society is opening up again, but they need to remain vigilant.

“All of us should be [wearing a mask] as part of Covid-19 prevention.

“Face masks will not go out of fashion for at least six months.”