- Written by Seniorgram Guest Contributor Raeann G. LeBlanc, PhD, DNP – University of Massachusetts Amherst College of Nursing
- Published: 28 August 2020
We can do this together!
During our current COVID-19 pandemic, we have experienced a lot of different messages about how to best protect our health. We know more now about how to prevent transmission of the virus to others. It has not been a familiar practice among the general population to wear masks or use other protective barriers, and there are unique cultural perceptions that can affect our health behaviors.
Think of handwashing as protection before you put on your mask, before you take it off, and after you take it off.
It helps to first be reminded that COVID-19 is highly contagious and is easily spread by person to person to person, primarily through respiratory droplets. People can give it to one another without even having symptoms. Some people get severely ill, some die, some have only minor illness, and others have lingering debilitating symptoms. Cases keep growing and the gravity of spreading the COVID-19 virus is really big and even more complicated because of the persistent high levels of infection across our country and a lack of adequate testing and contact tracing to meet that demand. This does not mean we are without any power to address very basic infection control practices and play an active role in a consistent approach that can influence prevention (social distancing, mask wearing, handwashing, diligence).
Not only do we want to prevent ourselves from getting sick, we also want to prevent spreading the infection to others should we become infected. The recommendations from the CDC and public health experts are relatively clear: frequent hand washing and cleaning of high contact surfaces (faucets, door knobs, counters). Using soap and water OR hand sanitizer (60% alcohol or more) and, importantly, using friction to clean all parts of the hands, front and back, for a minimum of 20 seconds, is highly effective in preventing transmission. The friction of rubbing hands together can mitigate pathogen adherence and is a key part of successful handwashing.
The next important tool to prevent contracting and spreading COVID-19 is personal protective equipment, primarily mask wearing. There is much variability in masks. The general public can use cloth facial coverings. But there are some important considerations. Your mask needs to be comfortable and fit well so you are not touching it or needing to adjust it once it is on. To protect others from you, your nose and mouth need to be covered. The thickness of the mask is important – and a facial mask made of two layers of heavy-duty tight weave fabric with a built-in pocket where you can place a filter, versus a bandana or neck gaiter, is preferred. There is evidence that some materials are better than others. Surprisingly, fleece material can actually be worse than no mask at all.
It is very important to wash your cloth face covering between wearings. Think about what the outer layer of your face covering is being exposed to and to how many people. If you go to the grocery store or ride public transportation, then wash your mask. Ideally, you are still only going out as necessary and still staying 6 feet away. Before you remove your mask, make sure to wash your hands. Then, when you remove your mask, you do not want to touch what it has been exposed to. Ideally, take it off by removing the ear straps and turning the mask inward. In this fashion, you do not have contact with what your mask may have contacted. After you remove your mask, once again wash your hands. You can wash your cloth face covering by hand or in the washing machine, then dry in the dryer or in sunlight if preferred. Disposable surgical and KN95 masks cannot be washed, but you can rotate your masks at least every 3 days, provided the mask is not soiled or damaged. Think of handwashing as protection before you put on your mask, before you take it off, and after you take it off.
Six Feet Apart – Together
Maintain a social distance preventative stance and ask that of others when possible. For the best protection, wear a mask and maintain a 6-foot distance, wash your hands, avoid touching your face, and clean high contact areas. For caregivers and those where close contact is necessary, handwashing and facial coverings offer additional protection. Be mindful of your own symptoms of possible exposure and have a backup plan so you can self-quarantine should you feel sick (cough, fever, change in taste or smell, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, recent loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion, nausea or vomiting, diarrhea) and need to take time away from close caregiving while you get tested and await test results. In Massachusetts, call 211 if you have concerns about COVID-19.
As with many health issues, prevention takes a multi-pronged approach. The effectiveness of our equipment to protect one another depends on how we use it. As careful citizens we want to prevent the spread to others. We can do this! It does take a little more time, being conscious of the importance to humanity, access to a mask and hand sanitizer, commitment, and practice. This extra care is worth it as it is of significant importance to our very existence. The following resources may also help:
- How to Wash a Cloth Face Mask
- How to Care For Your Face Mask
- Coronavirus Face Masks & Protection FAQs
- Face Mask Efficiency
- Handwashing: Clean Hands Save Lives
- Household Materials Selection for Homemade Face Coverings