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How do face masks protect against coronavirus and when should I wear one?

FROM Monday June 15 face coverings will be mandatory on all public transport in England.

The new rules will apply on trains, tubes, buses, ferries and planes but people will not have to wear them inside railway stations or bus terminals.

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 Tube passengers in London during the coronavirus pandemic
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Tube passengers in London during the coronavirus pandemicCredit: Peter Jordan - The Sun

Do face masks protect against coronavirus infection?

Wearing masks may reduce the risk of spreading the virus but it won't stop someone from catching it.

They are far less effective if not worn and fitted properly as they will not be able to form a seal and filtration.

Also, the majority of face masks only work once and then they either need to be disposed of or sanitised.

If you buy or make your own cloth mask they can be reused if you wash it thoroughly at over 60C.

 Wearing a face covering, like a bandana, may be one of the ways out of lockdown
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Wearing a face covering, like a bandana, may be one of the ways out of lockdownCredit: Reuters

A face covering

A simple face covering is all you need to keep relatively safe in day to day circumstances like public transport.

Experts say this could be a scarf or a bandana wrapped around the nose and mouth, rather than a surgical face mask which should be reserved for medics.

While no mask can guarantee you not catching the virus, it will catch a lot more infectious airborne particles than nothing, upping your personal safety drastically.

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Surgical masks

These are the masks worn by most dentists and surgeons when operating under normal circumstances.

They offer a decent amount of protection against pathogens like body fluid splatter, saliva and the vapours from surgery.

These can offer the same level of protection to the wearer as a decent homemade face mask.

Surgical masks can vary in design, but the mask itself is often flat and rectangular in shape, with pleats or folds.

The top of the mask contains a metal strip that can be formed to your nose and should be pulled down under your chin.

N95

N95, surgical and FFP3 masks are disposable face masks that are proven to filter the air to an industrial standard.

Manufacturers vary, but the N95 is a stamp from the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to show that it is efficient, which comes with a logo. FFP3 is similar.

The N95 stamp means that when subjected to lab testing, the respirator blocks at least 95 per cent of 0.3 microns (0.00003 cm) test particles.

Droplets of less than one-micron size represent 97 per cent of droplets contained in cough aerosol.

These masks are in short supply and the NHS, coronavirus patients and our vulnerable need them.

FFP3

FFP3 Mask respirators provide protection against solid and liquid aerosols and smoke.

They are normally used by people handling hazardous materials like asbestos or working with patients who have tuberculosis.

These are the ones worn by the NHS when they can get them.

Do not buy them unless you are directly exposed to someone in your home who has coronavirus, or strongly believe you have it yourself.

 A man wearing a FFP3 type protective mask
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A man wearing a FFP3 type protective maskCredit: Getty Images - Getty

What are the drawbacks to FFP3 and N95 masks?

High-grade masks generally have an eight-hour shelf life before becoming clogged depending on the work you're doing.

If worn incorrectly then they are ineffective and when they become moist - which they will because of the humidity caused by the wearer breathing into them - then they are also compromised.

This is why medical workers or infected people need to be changing them consistently.

PHE said: "Face masks must be worn correctly, changed frequently, removed properly, disposed of safely and used in combination with good universal hygiene behaviour in order for them to be effective.

When should I wear a face mask?

Brits in England will have to wear face masks on all public transport from June 15 or face fines.

Masks will be made mandatory for anyone in England wanting to use the tube, bus or a train.

The new rules will apply on trains, tubes, buses, ferries and planes. But people won’t have to wear them inside railway stations or bus terminals.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “I can announce that as of Monday 15 June, face coverings will become mandatory on public transport.

“The evidence suggests that wearing a face masks offers some, limited protection.

“You can be refused travel if you don’t comply and you could be fined.

“It’s a condition of travel. You cannot travel if you are not wearing a face covering.”

Mr Shapps said it would be an England-only rule, but he expects Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will follow suit.

A fresh nationwide advertising campaign will be launched in the coming days to let me people know of the new rules.

There will be exemptions for anyone with breathing difficulties and young children.

British Transport Police will be asked to enforce the rules, and staff in stations will have to wear them too.

It is understood that there has been no new scientific evidence to SAGE – the Government’s group of scientific advisers.

The Department of Health said previously after considering the latest scientific advice from SAGE, face coverings can help reduce the spread of coronavirus.

How to wear a mask properly

The major issue with the masks is that most people don't wear them the right way, compromising their efficiency.

When applied correctly they will form a seal, like a pair of swimming goggles, but get hot and stuffy, so most people are likely to try and open them at the sides to breathe better, defeating the purpose.

Manufacturers advise that the mask must cover both the nose and mouth to keep you from breathing in mould and dust.

If it does not have a snug fit, it will not work properly.

It must form a seal around your mouth and nose, which is why we are seeing medics with bruising and red marks on their cheeks.

It will not work properly for people with beards or facial hair.

Even one-day beard growth has been shown to let air leak in, so it's important to shave.

Can I make my own face mask at home?

Face masks can be made at home and various DIY tutorials have popped up online to help.

One of the simplest ones involves using two layers of kitchen roll and one tissue cut in half.

You then cover each end with masking tape - and you can even tape down some wire to stiffen the mask, if you have any.

Finish by punching holes in each end and threading elastic through to fit around your ears.

If you don't have elastic bands you could also use a hair tie.

Another method involves using a T-shirt without the need for any sewing or stitching.

A YouTube tutorial by Runa Ray explains that for the T-shirt method, you need to cut out a 16in by 4in rectangle from the material.

Then fold it in half and measure 4in on either side before making an equal number of cuts along the edges with scissors.

Then turn the fabric inside out and knot each of the tails, but leave the four outer edges.

Cut two more strips of material and tie them to the ends - these are the straps that will go around your ears.

Some people have also used a vacuum cleaner bag to create a face mask, which is a bit more complicated - and only works if you have a spare, clean bag to hand.

 

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