How to wear face masks correctly to protect against COVID-19

Dr Siouxsie Wiles says people who are wearing masks also need to practice good hygiene.
Dr Siouxsie Wiles says people who are wearing masks also need to practice good hygiene. Photo credit: Getty

While there is some debate over whether the public needs to wear face masks during the COVID-19 pandemic, those that choose to should use them correctly.

If they are used properly the masks can be effective at capturing droplets which is the main transmission route of coronavirus and is, therefore, less likely to be passed on.

To get the best protection from wearing a face mask, the World Health Organization has some tips for putting on, wearing and disposing of the gear.

Firstly they recommend thoroughly washing your hands before putting the mask on. This should be done using soap and water for 20 seconds or using hand sanitiser as an alternative.

When putting your mask on, make sure it covers your mouth and nose and fits snuggly with no gaps between your face and the mask.

While using the mask try to prevent touching it. However, if you have to, make sure you immediately wash your hands afterwards.

As soon as your mask becomes damp replace it with a new one and do not reuse single-use face masks.

If you are using a reusable mask make sure it is washed after every use and have it dried properly before using it again.

WHO recommends removing masks from the back, do not touch the front of the mask, and then discard it immediately in a closed bin. Then clean your hands again.

But Dr Siouxsie Wiles wrote for The Spinoff that people who wear face masks should make sure not to get a false sense of security from the protective gear.

Wearing a face mask will not completely protect people from COVID-19, but will help to prevent the spread orally. 

She says everyone still needs to follow the Government's advice and keep up good hygiene practices.

Dr Wiles also noted she had been hesitant to recommend the use of masks before and had received hate mail for her reluctance.

But it's other organisations that have also had a lack of clarity on the issue.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are urging everyone to wear them, especially for people in areas of community transmission. But advice from the World Health Organization says only if you are taking care of someone known to have COVID-19 should you wear one.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday that the New Zealand Government would be taking advice from the WHO as confusion on the issue continues.

The organisation has convened a panel of expert advisors who are reassessing their original advice and seeing if the recommendations need to be updated, BBC reported.

Backing a change is a global movement called #masks4all which is trying to get mandatory mask laws put in place around the world.

In New Zealand, the movement has set up a petition on which already has over 1300 signatures.

"We are petitioning the Chief Science Advisor and the Prime Minister to get behind the #masks4all campaign and encourage Kiwis to begin homemade mask production immediately," the petition says.

The group behind it says every little move to help stop COVID-19 will add up and make a difference and is backed by some researchers and scientists.

But there are variables which influence the decision to make the nationwide change including ensuring there are enough supplies, especially for front line workers first.

Other variables include the rate of community transmission.

But for now, the Government is waiting on the WHO's advice and recommending New Zealanders continue to practice good hygiene and wash their hands.