7 Things You Should Know About Face Masks

From knowing how to fit one properly, to tips and tricks for avoiding fogging up your glasses.

People in Melbourne must now wear masks when leaving their homes as Victoria marked two weeks of triple-digit increases in new coronavirus infections on Sunday.

Melbournians not wearing face coverings will be fined $200, said Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews.

Dr Nick Coatsworth, Australia’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer, said the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) adjusted its advice and now recommends wearing a mask in areas where community transmission is on the rise.

Face covers are already mandatory on public transport in counties like England and Scotland, and mandatory in shops in England, too – so it’s a good idea to get up to speed on why we’re wearing them and how we can do so as comfortably as possible.

From knowing how to fit one properly, to tips and tricks for avoiding fogging up your glasses, here are seven things you should know.

1. Wearing a face cover protects other people.

Face covers protect other people from your germs. As Professor Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, explained: “Wearing a face covering is an added precaution that may have some benefit in reducing the likelihood that a person with the infection passes it on.”

And Paul Edelstein, professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, said: “The evidence for the benefit of wearing face coverings in protecting others from infection is becoming clearer all the time.”

Face covers are key to reducing the virus’ spread among asymptomatic individuals (people who don’t have any symptoms). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US estimated that just over a third (35%) of Covid-19 infections are symptomless. Meanwhile a study of 9,000 people in Iceland found 50% of them were asymptomatic.

Studies from cruise ships suggest that figure could be even higher. Almost three quarters (72%) of people on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship who had Covid-19 were thought to have been asymptomatic, according to a preliminary study by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

There is also some evidence emerging to suggest face covers can even help protect the wearer, but this depends very much on how well they fit and the material they’re made from.

2. It has to cover your nose and mouth to work properly.

You’ve probably spotted people wearing face masks and covers over their mouths, but not their noses – this doesn’t offer much protection. You have to cover your nose and mouth, as you can you expel droplets carrying the virus from both of them.

Having a face mask that fits properly is key to keeping your germs to yourself. University of Edinburgh researchers tested the effectiveness of seven types of mask – including medical-grade masks, homemade masks and face shields – to see how well they stopped the wearer’s germs from escaping.

Wearing a face mask or other covering over the mouth and nose was found to reduce the forward distance of your breath – which can carry the virus – by more than 90%. But having gaps at the back and sides of your mask could be problematic because strong jets of air can escape if masks are ill-fitting – so wearers (and those around them) need to be cautious.

3. It’s not a replacement for social distancing.

It’s really important to remember that wearing a face mask or face cover is not a replacement for social distancing, nor is it a replacement for regular hand-washing (remember the 20-second rule), both of which remain the most important actions for stopping Covid-19 in its tracks.

4. There are ways to stop your ears from hurting.

Face masks and covers can make the backs of your ears sore, especially if you’ve been wearing them for some time.

Nurses and other healthcare professionals have been finding workarounds for this discomfort by attaching the ear loops of their face masks to hair styles and fastening buttons onto baseball caps or headbands to attach the ear loops to.

It might also be helpful to buy face covers with ribbon ties rather than elasticated ear loops, if you’re struggling with sore ears.

5. Face masks with front valves may not protect others.

Some types of respirator mask come with a valve on the front designed to filter out harmful particles – while these protect the wearer, they don’t protect other people from the wearer’s germs, according to experts. As the San Francisco Department of Public Health explains: “The ones with the valves or openings on the front are not safe, and may actually propel your germs further.”

Dr Ali Raja, executive vice chair of the department of emergency medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and an associate professor at Harvard Medical School, told Healthline: “The virus can be transmitted through the valves, which offer no filtration at all. Any mask with a one-way valve is only going to protect the person wearing it. It won’t protect anyone around that person from potential exposure to virus particles they exhale.”

6. There’s a hack to stop your glasses steaming up while wearing masks.

If you’re sick of your glasses steaming up when wearing a face cover, try inserting a paper clip into the lining of the mask around the nose area so the mask fits flush to the top of your nose.

This particular hack was shared by Trisha Greenhalgh, professor of primary health care services at the University of Oxford. If that doesn’t work, keep your glasses on top of your face mask or invest in an anti-fog spray to keep your lenses clear.

7. You don’t have to buy a face mask or cover.

If cash is tight and you’d rather not invest in a face cover, you can make one quite easily at home without having to fork out for materials. You can use a handkerchief, bandana, old t-shirt or even a sock. Some of them require sewing skills, but most are pretty foolproof.