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COVID-19: How to wear a mask properly for protection

The streets and public spaces are ominously sparse and silent. Pedestrians are on high alert, and cautiously shifting their footsteps to avoid coming into close proximity with other human beings.

Surgical masks – and sometimes even respirators – adorn the faces of pedestrians, restaurant-goers, drivers, shop assistants, and just about anyone else who bravely ventures outside of their home. The eerie atmosphere concocted by artists, cinematographers, and writers alike to depict a cyberpunk-esque zombie onslaught has, over the past few weeks, seemingly eventuated into reality. 

In the span of just one month alone, the year 2020 has already seen a number of turbulent global events that have created a seismic shift in the human population’s current and/or potential living conditions; be it social, economic, regulatory, health-related, or otherwise. And decidedly the most prominent of all is the rapidly spreading coronavirus, which has reached the shores of a growing number of countries the world over. 

Dramatic opening aside, rapidly rising coronavirus caseloads have led to pervasive paranoia and fear of infection, both globally and in Hong Kong. And with no sign of the outbreak abating anytime soon, remaining vigilant can, quite literally, save your life by lowering your risk of infection. So, without further ado, this Pacific Prime Hong Kong blog article presents the most essential tips for protecting yourself against COVID-19.

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Is wearing a mask even necessary?

Frequent any pharmacy, convenience store, or supermarket – be it brick and mortar or online – and you’ll most likely be notified that surgical masks are completely sold out. 

Masks have become such a precious commodity in Hong Kong, in fact, that queueing lines as long as dragons are not an uncommon sight outside shops declaring they have limited stock available. Indeed, several citizens have even reported waiting 6 to 7 hours just to get their hands on less than a week’s supply of facial coverings. This prompts the question: is the scramble for masks really necessary?

Advice by authorities in Thailand and Vietnam have urged people to wear masks, whereas Australian and Singaporean authorities have said healthy people don’t need masks. Conflicting messages from various governments around the world have sowed confusion over how to protect against the mysterious coronavirus that has claimed almost 400 lives to date. The hope is that wearing masks in public areas will, at the very least, slow the spread of the coronavirus, but just how effective they are, remain debatable. 

Do masks really prevent diseases?

First debuted into hospitals in the late 18th century, surgical masks made their first transition into public use during the Spanish flu outbreak in 1919, which led to a death toll of over 50 million people. Using them to prevent infection is popular in many countries around the world, especially in China where they are also worn for protection against high pollution levels.

While there exists widespread debate and skepticism as it pertains to the effectiveness of masks against airborne viruses, there is some evidence to suggest masks can help prevent hand-to-mouth transmissions and could help lower the risk of virus transmission through the “splash” from a cough or sneeze. 

The CDC recommends that all health workers who interact with coronavirus patients wear N95 masks, which are a type of respirator mask designed to filter out particles as small as 0.3 microns from the air. The average size of viruses in the coronavirus family is, however, just over 0.1 microns, meaning some of the virus particles could still travel through the mask. It is a more than common sight nowadays in Hong Kong to see people wearing surgical masks, but if not worn properly, they are typically too loose to really be effective in protecting against the virus. 

Surgical masks vs n95 respirators

Mask products that were once available in abundance on Amazon and other online stores have now become a scarcity. Most masks are either sold out or sold at a heavily inflated price. The most sought after masks are surgical masks and N95 respirators.

A surgical mask’s main purpose is to prevent the liquid from another infected person’s cough or sneeze from entering your nose or mouth. Wearing a surgical mask can also prevent hand-to-mouth viral transmissions, as you’re not directly touching your mouth while wearing one. However, virologists say surgical masks cannot block airborne viruses from entering the body.

The aptly named n95 respirator, on the other hand, blocks at least 95% of tiny particles. N95 respirators are believed to be more protective than surgical masks, but studies have shown that they are only effective if worn correctly and in conjunction with implementing other protective measures, such as frequent hand washing.

How to use a face mask correctly 

  • Ensure that your hands are disinfected with soap or hand sanitizer before touching the mask.
  • Place the mask carefully to cover your mouth and nose, and tie securely to reduce any gaps between your face and the mask.
  • Ensure you know which side of the mask is the top. The side with the stiff bendable edge is the top part of the mask, and should mold to the shape of your nose.
  • Know which side of the mask is the front. The colored side is usually the front, which should face away from you. 
  • While in use, try not to touch the mask. 
  • Do not reuse single-use surgical masks. 
  • Discard single-use masks immediately after use and upon removal. 

What other things can you do to protect yourself against the coronavirus?

While wearing a mask can reduce your chances of contracting a viral illness, there are still a number of other preventative measures you can take to protect your health. These include: 

  • Ensuring that you wash your hands often with warm water and soap.
  • Refraining from rubbing or touching your face, nose, and eyes. 
  • Cooking all of your food thoroughly.
  • Keeping a safe distance away from people that are sick.
  • Getting adequate sleep.
  • Exercising regularly. 
  • Staying at home and avoiding public places whenever possible during an outbreak. 
  • Seeking medical attention immediately if you exhibit any respiratory illness symptom, which may include: sore throat, fever, malaise, headache, and coughing.
  • Getting the right health insurance protection, so should the unfortunate occur, you can fully focus on recovery without worrying about the sky-high cost of medical treatment in Hong Kong. 

Any questions? Get in touch with Pacific Prime today

Perhaps you have more questions about healthcare and the coronavirus situation in the SAR. Or maybe you would like to learn more about comparing the best private health insurance plans and finding the right international health insurance company in Hong Kong. No matter your query, big or small, we have a dedicated team on hand to answer all of your questions and provide assistance. Simply get in touch today. 

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Content Strategist at Pacific Prime Hong Kong
Jessica Lindeman is a Content Strategist at Pacific Prime. She comes to work every day living and breathing the motto of "simplifying insurance", and injects her unbridled enthusiasm for health and insurance related topics into every article and piece of content she creates for Pacific Prime.

When she's not typing away on her keyboard, she's reading poetry, fueling her insatiable wanderlust, getting her coffee fix, and perpetually browsing animal Instagram accounts.
Jess Lindeman