To help contain the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), the National Department of Health has made it compulsory for everyone to wear face masks. South Africans are now advised to wear a cloth face mask – not a medical mask – when out in public.
The National Minister of Health Dr Zweli Mkhize has recommended that all South Africans wear cloth face masks when they leave their homes to buy groceries, collect social grants, or go to hospital. This does not in any way replace i strong preventive measures like washing your hands for 20 seconds with water and maintaining social distance (keeping at least two metres away from others).
The World Health Organization regularly updates its resources and materials based on new scientific findings as the epidemic evolves. It now recommends that people over 60 and anyone with underlying health conditions should wear medical-grade masks when they go out in public. Everyone else should wear cloth masks. For our most recent article on masks, read:
Cloth masks are NOT the same as medical masks
“It’s important to note that medical masks are intended for healthcare workers and are therefore different from cloth face masks recommended for use by the general public,” says Dr Noluthando Nematswerani, Discovery Health’s Head of the Centre for Clinical Excellence.
“While wearing a cloth face mask does not prevent the risk of contracting the virus, new guidelines on the use of masks released by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases state that these masks can play an important role in reducing the spread of the virus from infected individuals including those who are not showing symptoms. People who are not showing symptoms may not be aware that they are infected and continue to spread virus from droplets produced when they speak, cough or sneeze. It is therefore recommended that members of the general public use these cloth masks to prevent the spread of the virus. The use of cloth masks can also lower the risk of contracting the virus from contaminated surfaces by acting as a barrier to touching your face.”
“The Minister of Health is not advising us to go out and buy surgical masks,” Dr Nematswerani emphasises. “We must still adhere to the World Health Organization’s recommendations that only healthcare professionals, COVID-19 patients with respiratory symptoms, and caregivers who have close contact with COVID-19 patients should wear medical face masks.”
Know more about cloth face masks
The National Department of Health has designed a series of posters to encourage South Africans to wear three-layer cloth masks when they go out in public. These posters are available on www.sacoronavirus.co.za.
Poster 1: Wear a cloth face mask when you go out
Poster 2: Handwashing and social distancing remain the most effective way to prevent COVID-19.
Poster 3: What is the main advantage of wearing a cloth face mask in public?
Poster 4: How to use a cloth face mask
The latest advice from the World Health Organization (June 2020)
The organisation has also published new guidelines on how to make a three-layered cloth face mask:
- The outer layer should be a water-resistant fabric like polyester or a polyester blend.
- The inner layer should be a water-absorbent material like cotton.
- The middle layer acts as a filter and should be made of non-woven materials such as polypropylene.
For more educational stories and tools, check out our COVID-19 information hub. Stay informed. Stay healthy. Stay home.
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