Hey everyone! Hope you're all doing okay amidst the pandemic.
I wanted to share this myTake because I feel there is no real guidance out for there for the general public about face masks and when to wear them or not. I work in the NHS in a hospital and in GP surgeries in the UK and I'm seeing a lot of confusion about face masks by the general public.
I think a lot of healthcare workers take for granted their general PPE knowledge seeing as we're trained in how to use it and/or have some general knowledge about infection control. The public who work in all kinds of jobs, might not have this knowledge or training, so this is for you guys! I feel that relieving some uncertainties about this could help people feel more in control and less anxious.
I have had patients complain about staff not wearing masks in some instances, so this myTake may help people understand the reasons behind it. I will also include a section about disposable gloves and why you shouldn't wear them.
Disclaimer: This information is from one UK NHS worker (not a doctor/nurse). It may not apply to everyone/to all countries. This is based on my own personal opinion, with some facts thrown in, and isn't an order. Do what makes you feel comfortable, but some information won't hurt. :)
When to wear a mask:
- When you cannot keep a two metre distance from others or there is a likelihood that you will come into close contact with others, for around 15 minutes. Wearing a mask to go to the supermarket is a good example of a time to wear one because not everyone follows the guidelines of the two metre rule and you are standing around/near people for a long period of time. This is why it's becoming mandatory to wear face masks when on public transport and it's advisable to wear one when going to a GP surgery or hospital where you'll be close to a staff member for an appointment.
- When coming into contact with someone with COVID symptoms or confirmed COVID, but this should always include further PPE like overalls, gloves, visor/goggles etc. Of course, you should avoid someone with COVID or those who have symptoms.
- If you have COVID symptoms, to protect others (though you should isolate completely from others if you have any COVID symptoms, which now includes loss of taste/smell).
When you don't need to wear a mask (unless you want to):
- In your car when driving alone. You aren't in contact with anyone, you're alone so there is no need to wear one in the car, unless you had someone in your car that isn't from your household, but this goes against current guidelines. Driving alone is a good opportunity to get a break from wearing a mask and reduces the chance of it getting musky inside your mask. There is now guidance from CDC suggesting it can be unsafe to wear masks in the car after a person passed out at the wheel from wearing a mask for several hours. Not only were they wearing it for an unnecessary amount of time, they wore an N95 mask which are clinical masks used by medical staff treating COVID patients, an unnecessary piece of equipment for a member of the public to wear. N95 masks can make breathing very difficult and are considerably harder to keep on for long periods compared to the common blue and white paper masks.
- When going for a walk on your own or with your own household. Unless of course, you know you will be coming into close contact with others outside of your household, who you will remain in contact with for a longer period of time. All you need to do is keep your distance from others as you walk past each other. Be mindful of coughing, sneezing or even talking when walking past people as these can release particles into the air. Do all of those things when you're far enough away from others. There is generally a low level risk when walking past people briefly without a mask and this is why you might see staff walking through corridors without a mask. Some staff have been told not to wear masks outside of clinical areas for fear that it would panic the public, though this may have changed recently, so be mindful that most staff aren't being negligent.
General mask information:
- The common blue and white paper masks that staff wear are designed to be worn for short periods. They are after disposed of after a couple of hours. Wearing them for longer than this or continuing to use them over a number of days/weeks/months means the mask is practically useless and could possibly be riddled with germs. Only higher grade masks used for COVID wards can be worn for longer, but that is usually up to 8 hours and they cannot be taken off for those 8 hours, otherwise it'll have to be replaced.
- Masks are designed to protect others around you, from you. They are less about protecting you from others, as particles can still go into your eyes. This is why I support people wearing masks as much as possible when in busier areas or when coming into the hospital/doctor surgery. It will protect staff and those around you.
- Ideally, you should be washing your fabric face masks every day/when you've finished using it that day. Hopefully people are already doing this and understand why this is important, but you never know.
- If you're at a time where you need to wear your mask, briefly taking it down to talk to someone defeats the point, unless they are 2-metres away from you. I am seeing a lot of people in riots wearing masks but pulling them down under their chin and leaving them there. There is no point having the mask at that point.
- If you are wearing a mask and it's becoming uncomfortable/moist inside (this would normally suggest it needs to be disposed of), usually because people are wearing them continuously unnecessarily, it is okay to unhook it from one ear and let it hang whilst you get a breath, only when away from others. You should imagine that the virus is sitting on the front of your mask, so using your finger to pull it down to sit under you chin means your finger and your chin could then be contaminated. Unhooking it from one ear without touching the front minimises this risk.
- If you don't have a mask, wrapping a scarf around your face is better than nothing. It is mainly about preventing small particles from your mouth and nose from getting into the atmosphere, which can happen just from talking.
- Please don't ask staff for a mask; we need that protection for ourselves and in most cases, you won't be given one.
- The general public do not need to wear disposable gloves. If anything, these can spread the virus even more because people are washing their hands less.
- There are hand sanitisers everywhere that people are encouraged to use, but some people wearing gloves won't use them because they don't want to remove their gloves and put them back on again. The people without gloves on are much more likely to use hand sanitiser. If you're adamant on wearing your gloves, at least sanitise them when you're asked to do so.
- They are disposable gloves for a reason; they should be used for one task and then disposed of, not worn all day for many tasks. Unless you have a box of them in your handbag and you are regularly changing them after each task, that's fine, but I imagine most people aren't doing this.
- If you take your gloves off for whatever reason, you shouldn't put them back on, they should be disposed of.
- Depending on how busy my shift is, I can change my gloves anywhere from 15-40 times in 4 hours. I'm sure you wouldn't want a staff member to treat you with the same gloves they wore with many other patients before you. Why? Because of germs!
I want to end by saying, please don't be scared about going into hospital or surgeries if you need to go. Patients are telling me that they're too scared about going to the hospital but personally, the level of risk in the hospital and a GP surgery is about the same. A&E is quieter than its ever been and you're greeted with nurses in full PPE (which protects you from them) who check each patient before they can even enter the building.
I actually feel that supermarkets are a higher risk because customers don't have their temperatures or symptoms checked and anyone can walk in. The amount of times a family member has told me that they've come into contact with people coughing whilst shopping is worrying! I'm actually more nervous about going shopping than going to work as there are better precautions put in place. Patients are sat apart or kept outside and appointments are staggered.
Hospitals are generally quieter at the moment and all staff who come into contact with you will have masks to protect you from them. And you won't look weird if you wear a mask into the hospital or surgery either because I know some people worry about looking overcautious sometimes. Some places actually prefer patients to wear them.
Of course, the best way to protect yourself is to stay home if you don't have to go out and minimise human contact.
So there you have it! I hope this has been somewhat informative/helpful to people. Apologies if something doesn't make sense or I've missed something, but feel free to leave a comment if you have any questions. Again, this isn't gospel, do whatever makes you feel comfortable/safe, but whatever you do, don't be like this woman: