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Opinions of Monday, 27 April 2020

Columnist: Seth Danquah

Coronavirus: Face masks, why covering up is becoming the new standard


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Since the outbreak of the Coronavirus throughout the world, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Ghana Health Service (GHS) and its collaborating partners have played a major role with preventive and mitigation measures against the spread of the pandemic.

Measures by Partners

Among these measures is the wearing of masks, which are effective only when used in combination with frequent hand-cleaning with alcohol-based hand sanitizer or soap under running water.
Professor David Heymann, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who chaired the WHO’s Scientific and Technical Advisory group for infectious hazards, said unless people were working in healthcare settings, masks were “only for the protection of others, not for the protection of oneself”.

However, in an updated advice, he said people with COVID -19 symptoms should wear a face mask, self-isolate and seek medical advice as soon as they start to feel unwell, while those caring for them should wear a face mask when they are in the same room.
Recently, the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention urged the US public to wear cloth face coverings in pharmacies, groceries and other public places, where physical distancing can be hard to maintain.

In Ghana?

At the local level, the Greater Accra Regional Coordinating Council issued a directive on Wednesday, April 22, making the wearing of face masks compulsory in public with immediate effect in the Greater Accra region.
Similar measures were imposed in Cape Coast Metropolis to take effect from Monday, April 27.

President Nana Akufo-Addu advised Ghanaians to wear face masks in a television address on Sunday, April 19 and reiterated it on Sunday, April 26 when he addressed the nation on the 8th time in the series.
The Minister of Health directed the mandatory use of masks or face coverings when going out whether sick or not or attending to a sick person, and in all public places, where it may be difficult to maintain social distancing.

Mandatory users

The following groups or persons are required at all times to wear masks: food vendors and sellers at markets, commercial vehicle drivers and attendants (“mates”), commuters on public transports, persons in public and commercial centers.

The rest are; facilities and buildings including; but not limited to offices, bars, workshops, restaurants, sports arenas and SPAs, saloons, shopping malls, churches, clinics and hospitals, and all other facilities accessible to the public whether publicly or privately owed.

However, another concern is that people may contaminate themselves when they adjust, remove and dispose of their masks since incorrect use of face mask carries a high risk of infection.

WHO Standards

The WHO said people who choose to wear masks in public should follow its advice to ensure they were using them safely.

It said countries that recommended masks for the general population should set up studies to monitor their effectiveness.

Before putting on a mask, clean hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.

Cover mouth and nose with mask and make sure there are no gaps between your face and the mask.

Avoid touching the mask, while using it; if you do, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.

Replace the mask with a new one as soon as it is wet and do not re-use single-use masks.

To remove the mask: remove it from behind (do not touch the front of mask); discard immediately in a closed bin; clean hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.

If you wear a mask, then you must know how to use it and dispose of it properly.

Other instructions

Do not use the mask for more than 12 hours at a time. When using a re-usable mask, prepare a soapy or bleach lathered water and drop the mask directly into it on removing.

Leave in the water for five minutes before washing, then rinse, dry and iron before re-use.

Do not re-use single-use surgical masks more than twice or N95 masks more than three times.

Dispose all used masks in a closed bin or burn it in a safe place. Wash hands immediately with soap under running water and where available, apply alcohol-based sanitizer after disposal.

It is important that all masks used meet the minimum standards of safety and as such the Ministry of Health recommends that Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) approved masks are used.

Where they are not available, homemade masks made of the following materials or specifications may be used.

They are java or wax cloths sown triple-layered and stringed with side loops to be worn as hooks to the ear, and calico inlaid with fabric stiffens and inner covered with side loops to be worn as hooks to the ear.

However, homemade masks with strings to be tied behind the neck or head are not encouraged, while adult masks must not be worn by children (child-appropriate length masks must be worn by children).

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