The Ghana Health Service (GHS) has cautioned the public against using nose masks as the primary COVID-19 preventive measure due to the technicalities involved which may defeat the intended purpose of the masks, to a large extent.
While the masks are useful for healthcare givers who are in the frontline in dealing with COVID-19 cases, they are not the utmost preventive measure for those who are playing it safe, it says.
Following the confirmation of some COVID-19 cases in Ghana, the Daily Graphic has observed that many people have resorted to the use of surgical or disposable masks, as well as pieces of cloth and canvas, to prevent catching the viral disease.
But, in an exclusive interview with the Daily Graphic, the Director of Public Health of the GHS, Dr Ebenezer Badu Sarkodie, said not all nose masks had the ability to stop viruses and bacteria from reaching the nostrils.
He said even the kind of mask that had the ability to protect one from inhaling the virus — N95 — needed to be worn properly and tightly to get enough protection, noting that it had been observed that people using the masks did not properly fix them as needed.
Types of masks
Dr Sarkodie explained that there were two types of face masks — the ordinary one, known as disposable surgical masks or medical masks which cover the lower face and may be pleated, cuplike or duckbill-shaped, and the N95.
He said surgeons and other health professionals wore surgical masks in the operating theatre and during some other types of procedures to prevent liquid spill or splash from entering their noses and mouths.
He said they were also worn by symptomatic patients to protect others.
However, he added, surgical masks could also be used by people in over-crowded places where potentially affected persons might be and where social distancing would be difficult to observe to prevent droplets from symptomatic persons, through coughing and sneezing, from landing on the mouths and noses of others near them.
“The ordinary masks could be helpful, but to a very minimal or limited extent, and so people wearing them should not think they are 100 per cent protected. A lot of particles can penetrate them and they can get soaked and become a conduit for increasing virus and bacteria,” he added.
The Director of Public Health said the N95 masks, which are well labelled and also called disposable N95 respirators, were of high quality in terms of providing a face seal that allowed only filtered air to reach the person, as well as providing a high degree of protection against airborne pathogens with their ability to block 95 per cent of airborne particles if worn properly.
He said named for their ability to block at least 95 per cent of tiny particles, the N95 masks were tricky to put on, explaining that the key was to wear them firmly around the nose and the mouth without any gaps.
He said with the N95 masks, once they were on, they should not be removed, as periodic removal rendered them ineffective.
Those masks, Dr Sarkodie indicated, were much more expensive and not readily available to the public.
While applauding the public for their eagerness to protect themselves against the COVID-19, he reiterated the fact that the best way to protect oneself from the disease and any other viral infection, such as the flu, was to stick to basic hygiene and social distancing.
“Frequently wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap under running potable water, ensuring that the palms and the places between the fingers and nails are focused on.
“Ensure that up to a little above the wrist are well cleaned, avoid touching your face, especially your mouth, nose and eyes; sneeze or cough into your covered elbow or a tissue and dispose of it immediately; stay at home when you are sick and call for help, disinfect surfaces often, among other precautionary measures,” he said.
He also recommended the use of 70 per cent alcohol-based hand sanitisers often, avoiding travels to affected countries and not going to overcrowded places.
Mandatory use of face mask
On who should use the masks, Dr Sarkodie said worldwide, health experts and the WHO had recommended that only potentially infected and infected persons, persons showing the symptoms of COVID-19 or any viral and bacterial infection, such as coughing and sneezing, and people who were in contact with infected persons, such as frontline health professionals, should use the masks to help prevent the spread of the disease to others.
He added that the WHO had said there was little, if any, evidence available on whether or not wearing a surgical mask, which many Ghanaians had resorted to, could help stop the spread of an infection, such as the COVID-19, among people who were not already sick or who were not in contact with people who might be infected.
Following the address by President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo last Sunday evening directing that all social gatherings and religious meetings be banned for the next four weeks to help curb the spread of the disease, many Ghanaians came out the next day with masks covering their noses and mouths and also wearing gloves as a way of protecting themselves from contracting the viral disease.
Some Motor Traffic and Transport Department (MTTD) officials on duty at various areas also had gloves and nose masks on.
A number of traders also had them on, while others used handkerchiefs and pieces of cloth to cover their mouths and noses as their protective gear.