Face masks – to wear or not to wear?

1st May 2020 about a 5 minute read

One of the debates surrounding Covid-19 at the moment, especially in the UK, is on whether to wear a face mask, or not, when leaving the house?

According to the polling company, Ipsos Mori, “Only two in five think they will be wearing a facemask in public in the near future but three-quarters say they would if the government advised it.”

The UK is now in week five of lockdown – we here at FCC have not stepped foot in our office for seven weeks. Whilst we await confirmation from the Government about whether, when, and how the lockdown may be lifted, some countries are beginning to ease emergency measures put in place to address the Covid-19 crisis. UK Ministers have made plain our lockdown will not end until five key tests are met. Those tests are:

  • The NHS having sufficient capacity to provide critical care and specialist treatment right across the UK.
  • A sustained and consistent fall in daily deaths from coronavirus.
  • Reliable data to show that the rate of infection is decreasing to manageable levels across the board.
  • Operational challenges including testing and PPE are in hand with supply able to meet future demand.
  • A confidence that any adjustments to the current measures will not risk a second peak of infections that overwhelms the NHS.

Like many other people, I’ve been keeping up to date with the news and reports about which populations are and are not wearing face masks all around the world – especially in my home country of South Africa. South Africa’s hard lockdown (level 5) came to an end at midnight last night, when they moved to level 4 – this allows for a bit more movement with exercise and a few essential businesses returned to work, but all under very strict social distancing rules.

One of the measures requires all South African citizens to wear a material face mask when leaving the house. Similar advice has been given in parts of Europe, India, Asia, and the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), for example, is now advising that all U.S. citizens wear face masks to slow the spread of Covid-19. Their website provides useful information about how to fit and wear a face mask, including how to make three different types of masks, depending on your budget and what materials you have to hand.

I want to emphasise, here, that I am making reference to material face masks we can make ourselves from material around the home or to people wearing a scarf to create some sort of barrier between our noses and mouths and anything that may be spread from them. We are all too familiar with the lack of Personal Protective Equipment we have managed to secure, not only for our NHS staff but also our care workers and those staffing hospices where the second peak, sadly, seems to have taken hold.

Some individuals have been incredibly innovative when designing face masks for the broad range of groups who are liable to need them over the weeks ahead. An article I read recently, really resonated with me – it was about a young lady and her mother in the U.S. that have been making material face masks for people with hearing impairments. It is imperative we keep in mind all those in need of protection and care at this difficult time, and these face masks very cleverly have a piece of clear plastic that covers the mouth, enabling people with hearing impairments to still lip-read when speaking to somebody wearing the mask. While these particular material face masks already exist, they are hard to come by.

Like many others I’m sure, I’ve been wondering if and when the UK Government is going to advise the public here to wear face masks when going outside. This is just one of the many considerations that might become the new normal for all of us until a vaccine is found. An added complexity that seems to be unfolding in recent days is how devolved administrations might also respond. The Scottish Government has now advised wearing face masks when going outside the home. A similar issue has started in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

At FCC, we continue to discuss the challenges and opportunities that the pandemic presents or, else, may bring in the future, because It is during times of adversity that some of the most amazing innovations are often found – both big and small. We’ve also responded to a wider call from public and third sector colleagues to assist them in gathering information from local authorities, mutual aid groups, and similar volunteer-led organisations, to help people access the support and services they need during the lockdown.

I’m positive that there’s so much more we can all do to make a difference at this time, and while the wearing of face masks might seem like a small step, I believe that small steps have the potential to become leaps and bounds – if we all take them together.

Take care!