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Facemasks – To Wear Or Not To Wear – That Is The Dilemma!

Posted by Mike Phipps on May 29, 2020

Let’s examine the medical advice to see if wearing a face mask will help protect us from catching Covid-19, the devastating respiratory illness which is currently sweeping around the world.

Although the arguments for and against go backwards and forwards, the experts are beginning, at last, to speak with one voice and say wearing a face mask is probably better than not wearing one. You may feel more comfortable, when you start to venture out, wearing a face mask and you could either make one (there’s lots of templates for homemade face masks on the internet) – or you could buy one from our range of medical face masks, or one of our washable face masks handmade with love in Lancashire by our sister company.

Although wearing a face mask in public is new to most of us, wearing a facemask isn’t in itself a new practice. Throughout history, when highly infectious diseases have devastated populations, people on the front line treating the sick, have worn face masks in order to provide some kind of protection.

In Italy, in the 17th century, when the Black Death plague (also known as the Pestilence and the Great Mortality) seemed to be killing everyone in its path, doctors wore exotic, but scary-looking headdresses made of leather, which covered the entire face. They had long pointed bird-like beaks which were filled with herbs, spices and dried flowers, in the hope that the sweet scent would protect them from the foul smelling, infectious air. Today, in Italy, these face masks have largely become a fashion accessory and people wear them at the famous masked balls held in Venice.

A man wearing a mask that looks like a beak

Photo by Kuma Kum on Unsplash

In the 19th century, many fashionable women started a trend by wearing pretty, lacy face masks to protect themselves from the dusty air, which they believed had become polluted by fine particles of deadly bacteria 

In 1905, a physician named Alice Hamilton in Chicago, recommended wearing face masks when treating patients during surgery, after she noticed how rapidly scarlet fever was spreading simply by having a conversation with an infected person.

Covid-19 began in Wuhan in China in late 2019 and spread quickly. Some of the worst hit countries have been in Europe. Advice from all experts and governments on how to tackle it has, up to now, been patchy – largely because no-one knew what the world was really up against! With the number of infections worldwide now running close to 6 million and deaths at over 360,000, every possible method is now being considered, however small, to try to stop the infection in its tracks. 

If you want to keep up to date with how Covid-19 is impacting around the world, visit World Health Organisation.

The experts who are sceptical that masks make a difference focus on how Covid-19 is spread. One way is for an infected person to cough, sneeze, or just breathe close to another person for the virus to be transmitted through the nose, eyes or mouth.

Another way is for an infected person to touch their face and then place their hands an object which is then touched by other people who in turn touch their own eyes, nose or mouth. This, of course, can be counteracted if we constantly wash our hands thoroughly with warm water. If soap and water aren’t readily available hand gel or hand sanitiser is a good and convenient alternative.

Some say wearing a face mask won’t make a difference, because a mask only covers the nose and mouth leaving the eyes unprotected, and transmission of the virus could still happen through touch. Also, many state that wearing a face mask would make us all feel complacent and that we would begin to act “normally” again and start getting close to people and even shaking hands instead of doing elbow bumps or, giving them a hug.

In some countries, like France, kissing, as a greeting, is now totally taboo and will probably never be used in the way it once was. It used to be the case, in some parts of France, that a greeting of four kisses, two on each cheek, was the norm, and it was considered ill-mannered if you didn’t comply. That will all have changed now!

Another issue could occur if we start to fiddle with our face mask to loosen, tighten, or just make them more comfortable, passing germs from our hands to our face. And, as we apparently touch our faces on average 23 times an hour, that’s quite a serious risk.

But surely, even if wearing a face mask only partially limits the spread of the virus, it must be worth it? 

A recent survey in Hong Kong found that when testing a group of people with flu-like symptoms, the viruses in the air, produced by coughing and sneezing, were less from the people wearing a mask, than from the ones who were not. 

And recent advice from the British Government and some medical advisors state that wearing a face mask will help us all to feel more confident as the lockdown eases, and we venture out, back to work, on public transport and so on, having a positive impact on the overall spread of infection, particularly in crowded places where the recommended social distancing is difficult. In fact, at today’s (29th May) government briefing, the Opinions and Lifestyle Survey stated that 29% of adults used a face covering when outside their home to slow the spread of Covid-19. Further reading can be found on this link 

A woman wearing a disposable mask

Photo by Pille-Riin Priske on Unsplash

So, it appears that the general advice is face masks, or face coverings, like scarves or snoods, should be worn when out and about. Washable, reusable face masks are better for the environment than disposable ones, and over a couple of wearings, cheaper too!

Always remember to wash your hands in warm water and soap or, if water isn’t easily available then why not pop a bottle or tube of hand sanitiser in your pocket or bag? And, of course, before donning your mask, don’t forget to ensure your hands are squeaky clean!

Of course, it isn’t necessary to wear your face mask at home when you are with your family, or when you are out exercising in the fresh air. Neither should they be worn by very small children, or babies, in case of suffocation.

If you do want to purchase a face mask simply visit our PPE section where you’ll find a range of disposable facemasks, reusable/washable face masks, disposable gloves, disposable aprons, hand sanitiser or disinfectant spray.

Stay safe. Hopefully, it won’t be too long before we control this horrible virus and our lives can once again return back to some kind of “normal”.