Combating Covid-19: Who should wear masks and when? All you need to know

The UAE has asked all residents to wear a mask

A member of medical staff wearing protective gloves takes a swab from a woman during drive-thru coronavirus disease testing (COVID-19) at a screening centre in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates March 30, 2020.

A member of medical staff wearing protective gloves takes a swab from a woman during drive-thru coronavirus disease testing (COVID-19) at a screening centre in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates March 30, 2020.

REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah

With the UAE government asking residents to wear face masks when stepping out, queries about its types, effectiveness and costs have soared. Here is all you need to know.

When should you use masks?

Covid-19 is known to spread between people interacting in close proximity - supermarkets, pharmacies, etc. And according to the UAE Ministry of Health and Prevention, Covid-19 patients may not even exhibit symptoms like coughing or sneezing.

However, medical experts have stressed that masks alone won't protect you. You still need practise good hand hygiene - frequent washing with soap and water, in the absence of which hand sanitisers must be used.

Different types of masks

Face protection options range from hospital-grade surgical masks to makeshift face coverings like bandannas.

"The difference between N-95 (made in USA), KN-95 (made in China) and DIY (do it yourself) mask is that N-95 is scientifically proven to not allow 95 per cent of the particles to enter through the mask, whereas other masks have no proven scientific evidence," said Dr Sunil Vyas, pulmonology specialist, Aster Hospital, Qusais.

Dr Hammad Khan, emergency physician and head - Prime Hospital Dubai, said: "Ideally, N-95 masks are the ones that should be used. These masks have significantly lower air and water vapour permeability than surgical masks."

Simple masks will do the job

As people debated the high prices and short supply of surgical masks, medics reminded the general public that even simple, inexpensive masks are good enough for their protection.

The Ministry of Health and Prevention had advised residents to use home-made masks made of cotton in the absence of medical masks.

Dr Fatemeh Aghanasiri, specialist family medicine, Aster Clinic, Arabian Ranches, said: "If people cannot find surgical masks, use a thick cloth mask made of 100 per cent cotton. This will protect them from the exposure of respiratory secretion, unless there is a close contact with an infected patient or continuous contact with patients."

Surge in demand

While some pharmacies across the city reported unavailability of masks, many others said there was a surge in demand.

A pharmacy group said: "A lot of people are calling to enquire about masks. Some ask for N-95 masks, while others are content with surgical ones."

British expat Sarah Francis, who is a physician, said: "I was specifically looking for N-95 masks, because I feel they give us the right kind of protection. But my husband and I have not been able to find them anywhere."

Other residents also reported shortage of masks.

DIY masks

Dubai resident Mysha Shaikh has given up looking for masks. Instead, she is now looking at making home-made ones.

"I was watching videos online from credible sources on how to make a mask yourself. Experts are advising the use of pure cotton. So, I cut up an old pillow case, followed simple instructions and used rubber bands lying at home to make masks for everyone. It's easy, inexpensive and I feel it's enough to protect me."

Recommendations on usage

Experts said people should not use cloth face coverings for children under the age of two years.

Those who have trouble breathing must seek medical advice before using masks. Experts also said that masks should be replaced as soon as they are damp.

Experts have urged residents to leave N-95 and medical-grade masks for healthcare professionals due to surge in demand.

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