Answering Patient Questions About Masks During COVID-19
Updated: Jun 8
Wearing a mask has been one of the most the most controversial topics during COVID-19. Masks were first thought unnecessary for anyone who wasn’t showing symptoms. Or working on the front lines in healthcare.
Yet Dr. Theresa Tam is now advising that we should be wearing non-medical masks in public.
Why the change?
As with many things about COVID-19, we have no choice but to learn as we go, and masks are no exception. We learned the hard way that one of the worst things about COVID is that not everyone shows symptoms.
Yet evidence now suggests that these asymptomatic people can still spread the virus. Which means that masks can make the difference between life and death for those around them.
So why are people confused about masks?
For the first several weeks of the pandemic, there was much talk about the need for masks to be N-95 or higher.
N-95 masks or respirators can filter out 95% or more of airborne particles. These masks meet the N-95 standards set out by the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a shortage of these masks. And yet there is a desperate need for a steady supply for our front-line healthcare workers.
Given this shortage, many people are now encouraged to make masks at home. Which can be confusing for patients, who may feel less protected wearing masks made of simple cloth materials.
Yet the purpose of wearing a cloth mask is to protect not only the wearer, but those around him or her.
There are also a lot of other questions about wearing masks. How to wear them, how to clean them, and when and how they to dispose of them.
Many patients are understandably nervous about COVID-19. And many pharmacies are selling out of masks. Which means it's a conversation that pharmacists are having with their patients.
So, what else can you tell patients when they ask about wearing one?
Making Masks at Home
Cloth masks can be created using a variety of simple cloth materials that people may have at home.
Homemade masks should not restrict breathing, and should include:
· Loops or ties to secure the mask behind the ears · More than one layer of cloth · A snug, yet breathable fit
Considerations When Putting On/Taking Off A Mask
When putting on a mask, people should clean their hands beforehand. It's advised that using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer or use soap and water works best.
On removing a mask, the wearer should be sure not to touch their face and hands should be washed right after.
If wearing a surgical mask, patients should be sure the blue side facing out and the white side facing in. The mask should cover both the chin and nose and should tuck under your chin for a snug fit.
Cleaning and/or Disposing of a Mask
Washing homemade face masks regularly in the washing machine will keep them clean.
When wearing disposable surgical masks, they should be discarded after one use. They should also be discarded upon becoming moist.
As with other aspects of the COVID-19, people tend to have many questions. And pharmacists are a trusted source of healthcare information.
What are your feelings on wearing masks, and what do you feel it’s important to tell patients when they ask?
We’d love your input!