Masking amid COVID-19 Not totally harmless, CMO warns
WHILE many are advocating for the routine wearing of masks as COVID-19 cases balloon worldwide, the Ministry of Health and Wellness has said, except for select groups, that decision is at the discretion of the public.
Speaking at a digital press conference on Friday evening, Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr Jacquiline Bisasor-McKenzie said the ministry’s immediate priority is securing personal protective equipment (PPE) for health care personnel who are exposed by close contact with individuals who are ill.
The CMO also said the ministry recommends the use of masks by individuals who are coughing or sneezing, people who are quarantined or isolated at home — with or without respiratory symptoms — and household members who care for those individuals, or who are in the same house. She said, too, that people who have recovered from COVID-19 should wear masks for two weeks after being discharged from hospital as well as exercise infection protection control measures, to safeguard their family members.
While acknowledging that masks do offer some protection, Dr Bisasor-McKenzie warned that they are not totally harmless.
“The proper use of personal protective equipment by the health worker reduces the risk from high risk to no risk, even in environments of highest-possible exposure. But even the highest- trained health care worker has to be trained repeatedly in the donning and doffing of personal protective equipment,” she advised, adding that one of the greatest risks of infection is in the removal of a contaminated mask.
She, therefore, cautioned Jamaicans.
“Wearing a mask continuously is uncomfortable and you must avoid touching and adjusting the mask, as if the mask is contaminated, you will contaminate your hands and infect yourselves and others. Perform hand hygiene every time you touch the mask.
“As soon as there is contamination of the mask it must be discarded, as the risk gets higher of you contaminating yourself,” the CMO said. “If the mask is not worn properly, it will go up into your eyes. Do not rub or touch your eyes after touching the mask. Again, hand sanitise after touching the mask.”
She also advised that the mask must be discarded if it becomes soiled or moist.
“This increases your risk of infecting yourself and others. You may be taking germs on the mask into several different settings and increasing the risk of transmission,” she said.
Dr Bisasor-McKenzie continued: “Remove the mask by grasping the loops that are either at the back of your head or behind your ears, and pulling forward or away from your face. Do not touch the front of the mask.”
The CMO also said that people who are at high risk of developing severe illness, such as the elderly and individuals with chronic illnesses, should avoid individuals who are ill and minimise contact with the public.
If the decision is taken to wear masks, Dr Bisasor-McKenzie advised that it must be in addition to the other measures being championed by the ministry, which include regular hand-washing and hand sanitiser use, covering coughs and sneezes, not touching the face, and avoiding contact with people who are ill.
If you do decide to wear a mask in an effort to minimise your risk of contracting the infectious COVID-19, follow these World Health Organization tips on how to put on, use, take off, and dispose of masks:
• Before touching the mask, clean hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
• Take the mask and inspect it for tears or holes.
• Orient which side is the top side (where the metal strip is).
• Ensure the proper side of the mask faces outwards (the coloured side).
• Place the mask to your face. Pinch the metal strip or stiff edge of the mask so it moulds to the shape of your nose.
• Pull down the mask’s bottom so it covers your mouth and your chin.
• After use, take off the mask; remove the elastic loops from behind the ears while keeping the mask away from your face and clothes, to avoid touching potentially contaminated surfaces of the mask.
• Discard the mask in a closed bin immediately after use.
• Perform hand hygiene after touching or discarding the mask; use alcohol-based hand rub or, if visibly soiled, wash your hands with soap and water.
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