Mask 101 or how to buy and wear them correctly

JULY 28 — After watching highlights and following Parliament proceedings on social media, alas, dear reader, I had to scrap the column I wrote on the weekend.

It seems many of you, politicians included, need some help where masks and extras are involved so here’s a quick and easy guide.

1. What do I need?

The most basic level of protection is a surgical mask — they come in 2,3 and 4 plys. Higher the number, better the protection rating. Go for at least a 3-ply.

Ideally you should discard them after each use but we’re not made of money or all working at hospitals.Instead have two or more to switch between, and after each use, hang them up to air. 

2. What about cloth masks?

Cloth masks alone might not offer much protection but are better than nothing. If they have pockets for filters, they will then offer increased protection over cloth masks alone.

3. What is double-masking?

Double-masking is wearing two specific, different masks, that is wearing a surgical mask closest to your mouth, while wearing a cloth mask on top.

Please do not wear two surgical masks together, or a cloth mask on the inside instead of the outside. I have seen politicians do this and until recently some friends also thought double masking was wearing two surgical masks at the same time.

4. Why double-mask?

Double-masking means wearing a surgical mask with a cloth mask on the outside. — Picture courtesy of the US Centre for Disease Control
Double-masking means wearing a surgical mask with a cloth mask on the outside. — Picture courtesy of the US Centre for Disease Control

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Surgical masks were originally made to protect patients from droplets or germs from medical staff, but not so much to protect medical staff from sick patients.

Their design also means they’re prone to leakage from the top, sides and bottom. A cloth mask keeps the surgical mask closer to your face and helps prevent leakage.

5. Is there a specific type of cloth or outer mask I should use on top of the surgical mask?

So long as it fits snugly any kind of mask should be fine and if your ears get sore look for a cloth mask that uses overhead loops or straps to tie it behind your head.

6. Double-masking sounds suffocating. Is there an alternative?

You could choose to wear either KN95 or KF94 masks, they have higher levels of protection than surgical masks and have a tighter seal that makes them almost as good as an N95 respirator.

KN95s are a China standard  while KF94 is a Korean certification; both are often counterfeited so make sure you get authentic masks.

7. Should I just switch to N95s then?

The traditional N95s aren’t comfortable so you might struggle to wear them for longer periods of time. Newer 3M Aura and Vflex masks offer the same protection with more comfortable ear loops. 

Bear in mind they are expensive and more suited for medical staff who have to risk exposure to high viral loads.

8. What about shields?

Full-face shields offer additional protection from droplets as masks only cover your nose and mouth. Droplets can get into your eyes and infect you or hit the surface on your face not covered by masks.

Pairing a shield with a surgical mask might be an alternative to double-masking and offer broader droplet protection.

9. What shield should I get?

Here’s to a safer Malaysia and fewer embarrassing mask slip-ups in Parliament.The Blocc face shield is stylish, but the style comes at a very high shipping cost. — Picture courtesy of Blocc
Here’s to a safer Malaysia and fewer embarrassing mask slip-ups in Parliament.The Blocc face shield is stylish, but the style comes at a very high shipping cost. — Picture courtesy of Blocc

Basic, medical standard face shields that are just plastic sheets attached to a strap around your head are fairly cheap. 

They are also, sadly, hideous. An alternative are cheap shields that you can wear like glasses, with handles. 

Mr DIY stocks a fairly cheap face sized shield with ear handles but there are also various shields sold online of various makes and quality.

The Blocc face shield is a stylish but slightly pricey option that you can buy from the Blocc.kr website but shipping is a bit killer.

There’s also the viral sensation Vue Shield that looks like a transparent costume mask that a certain politician wore at a press conference. 

It’s actually medical grade and can be flattering on some people but might look ridiculous on others.

10. I can’t breathe or speak loud enough to hear me with masks!

According to the University of Alberta, wearing a mask doesn’t actually affect how much air you take in nor does it trap carbon dioxide.

What’s happening instead is dysfunctional breathing patterns are keeping you from breathing properly — learn to breathe from your belly instead of your chest, and also trust your body to manage your breathing properly once you’re used to wearing a mask.

You can make yourself more audible while wearing a mask with practice so perhaps be a little patient and trust that you will be able to adjust with time.

Learn to not immediately push down your mask or take it off when you need to talk because it defeats the purpose of having a mask in the first place.

With the Covid-19 Delta variant being a real concern, I hope everyone practises good mask protocols and to the politicians: we can all see your mask fails so maybe, take some time off your busy schedules to get better masks or at least start wearing them properly.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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