Covid-19 News

Living with COVID-19: Don’t let your masks down

The wearing of masks remains crucial as South Africans get used to living with COVID-19.
Written by Lilita Gcwabe

We have been living with the coronavirus for almost two years and already there is talk of a possible fifth wave in South Africa. As we learn to live with COVID-19, masks remain a vital preventative method in managing the spread of the virus.

A number of reports and studies have dubbed cloth masks as less effective against the Omicron variant and opened up a debate on the kind of masks that should be available to people as the pandemic continues.

But a local COVID-19 expert recommends the use of a cloth mask. Not only are they cheaper and more accessible, but also provide sufficient protection against the virus.

Masks still important

Dr Portia Mutevedzi is a Senior Epidemiologist at the Wits VIDA Research Unit, where they focus on respiratory disease research. A lot of her work covers COVID-19 research, including risk factors, incidents and virus prevalence.

Mutevedzi noted that the fourth wave, driven by the Omicron variant, is still being observed. We are still in the incubation period and are still going to see the effect of the festive season.

“So, even if a person has been vaccinated, it’s still important for them to wear masks and practice all the preventative measures. Providing education and answering questions around mask use and its effectiveness is still important,” said Mutevedzi.

Masks ‘block droplets’

“There has been a lot of evolution in mask use because COVID-19 is a new disease and we discover new information each day through research and science. As we get new information, this also changes the preventative methods that are involved in controlling the spread of the virus. For example, it was first reported that COVID-19 is an airborne disease. Now, we know it’s transmissable through This also changes the preventative methods, including the use of masks,” explained Mutevedzi.

Masks work to stop the spread of the virus from one person to the next by blocking droplets when talking or sneezing.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) has strongly recommended the use of the cloth mask for the general public. People should especially wear them when using public transport or walking around in public places.

N95s for healthcare workers

The National Department of Health says the N95 masks should be used by healthcare workers only.

“The three types of masks are the reusable non-medical masks, disposable masks, as well as, other masks that include your cloth masks. In addition to these masks, we have the N95 masks, which we call respirators,” explained Mutevedzi.

She said N95s are reserved for healthcare workers because of the increased risk in their day-to-day exposure to patients who could potentially have COVID-19 or other respiratory diseases like TB.

“The kind of mask you wear is dependent on your risk exposure. Healthcare workers are more susceptible to infections because they are more exposed to COVID-19 than any other general person. Doctors performing surgeries are at a higher risk. People working in closed environments or rooms and in groups, like teachers should also wear them,” she said.

Checking the quality of your mask

Making sure that no light is visible is one of the easiest ways to check the quality.

“This includes any sort of light from the sun or an artificial light source. If you can see any light rays passing through the cloth, then that cloth is too thin for it to filter out the droplets of virus in the air,” explained Mutevedzi.

She added that any mask that you wear has to fit properly over the nose and mouth and that it should have multiple layers.

“The fabric must be thick enough to not let any light in. When purchasing surgical masks, check on the box if they’ve been approved. When you purchase your mask, it should state somewhere that it’s WHO approved or say something like SASTM approved. There masks comply with the regulations for surgical masks.”

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommends an absorbent material for the inner layer. The middle layer should be a non-absorbent material and the outer layer should be polyester.

Mutevedzi said that if people want to be extra cautious, they should wear two. – Health-e News 

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Lilita Gcwabe

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