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Should you wear a mouth mask outside?

© Belga

As the new coronavirus (Covid-19) has surpassed 6,000 confirmed cases in Belgium, more people wearing mouth masks are turning up on the streets. But is that useful?

During the daily update of the coronavirus figures by the FPS Public Health, Sciensano and the National Crisis Centre, professor Steven Van Gucht stressed that there is “not much use” in wearing a mouth mask in the streets for healthy people, and that they can even give a false sense of safety.

Mouth masks only protect two groups of people, namely the patients, and the health care workers and other carers looking after patients. “It is important that the masks remain reserved for those two groups,” the FPS Public Health said. “If you are healthy, there is no point in wearing a mask on the streets or at work,” it added.

Good basic hygiene is the most important if you want to protect yourself and others, the FPS said. “Follow the recommendations, stay at home as much as possible, wash your hands regularly, and always keep a 1.5m distance from others. This is the best remedy to keep yourself healthy and prevent the spread of the virus,” the health authority said.

This is an explanation of the different kinds of masks that are being used, what kind of protection they offer, and whom they are for.

Surgical masks are used by care providers and staff in hospitals, rest and care homes, and by home care nurses. Care personnel with mild symptoms of a respiratory tract infection, but without a fever, also use them.

Possible or confirmed patients infected with the coronavirus should also use surgical masks to protect their environment, as should the care personnel treating and transporting them.

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FFP2 and FFP3 masks are used by caregivers, carers and supervisors who are in close contact with patients suspected or confirmed to be infected with the coronavirus.

When worn properly, these masks fit closely around the nose and face, making sure that all inhaled air is filtered. They are quite difficult to breathe through, and using them correctly requires some training. Immediately after treating a patient, these masks should be thrown away, as they are usually contaminated afterwards.

Homemade fabric masks are not medical masks, and do not offer the same protection as surgical masks. Patients who are possibly infected with the coronavirus and are staying at home in self-isolation, can use homemade masks if they do not have surgical masks.

People wearing a homemade mask give limited protection to their housemates and the persons caring for them, but it is important that these masks are washed at 60°, every day.

Maïthé Chini
The Brussels Times

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