Face masks are effective only when worn properly

Dear Editor,
Despite being amidst a full-blown pandemic, it is sad to see people not taking this issue seriously. Every time I venture out, I come across the same old sight that rattles me: despite the petrifying rise in COVID-19 infection, people are nonchalant and acting like nothing has happened, and going on their days as usual, with no care in the world.
Just last Wednesday, we saw Guyana recorded 12 new cases of COVID-19, and the total number of cases is now at an escalating 507 confirmed.
My goal in penning this missive is to highlight one troubling issue that I have noticed: a large number of people are either wearing their masks the wrong way (noses out, tucked under the chin; around their necks like a chain; as a headband; draping down their ears like a giant earring), or not wearing a mask at all.
I will admit that wearing a mask is not always comfortable, and even more so under the scorching sun;
but given the circumstances in which we find ourselves, I would much rather push through some sweat than to be attached to a ventilator.
Studies have shown that even while ventilators help you breathe, they sometimes lead to complications, such as lung damage, infections, vocal cord problems, blood poisoning and amputations, just to name a few. So, the choice is clear as day – especially since so many studies have shown the effectiveness of masks (and wearing them correctly) in stifling the COVID-19 spread.
It is important to note how a mask works: it works to slow airborne or respiratory infections. First, it must be understood that viruses do not float around alone; they fly out of the mouth in droplets of moisture, and are heavy enough to fall within six feet or so. Any person within this range could get infected with the virus.
These droplets are so tiny that they float around on the air. However, wearing a mask creates a warm, humid space between your mouth, nose, and the mask. Studies have confirmed that “if it feels hot or humid in your mask, then it means that it is working.” In this light, when you speak, cough or sneeze, the large droplets do not have time to evaporate, and are thus captured by the fabric of the mask.
Of course, an individual viral particle is smaller than the weave of most fabrics, but any droplet that does get through now has less momentum, and thus is not able to travel far. In this way, wearing a mask — and wearing it correctly — is a sign that you want to protect others, and have them protect you.

COVID-19 is a public health crisis, and we need to work under the notion that anyone we run into could potentially infect us. This is the ugly reality of this epidemic! That is why it is advisable to stay at home; to venture out only when you absolutely must; and if you do have to go out, always practise social distancing, avoid handshakes and hugs, wear your mask, and practise personal hygiene. Greet people with a wave of the hand, or in the motion our Hindu brothers and sisters say, “Namaste”, or as Muslims say, “Salam.”
As for those who do not wear a mask the right way, they need to understand that their risk of spreading and catching COVID-19 increases. When the mask is not covering your nose and mouth, you are rendering the mask not very useful, or even potentially useless. When pulled down and left to rest under the chin, the mask gets in contact with the neck, and the debris and possible germs that have accumulated there is now transferred to the mask. For this reason, masks must be properly sanitized, or cleaned prior to reuse.
Masks are essential when around gatherings of people, especially since studies have found that many carry the virus undetected. If the mask becomes bothersome, I would suggest going to a secluded area where no one is around, so that you can take it off to get some relief.
Further, I wish to add that a mask is not necessary when you are driving with no passengers in the vehicle.
I reiterate that no mask cannot stop the pandemic on its own; it is best used in tandem with other safety measures, such as hand washing, personal hygiene, and social distancing. In these testing times, when we are lacking adequate means of virus prevention, we have to rely on each other to stay COVID-19 safe.
In every pandemic in history, it is the actions and choices of individual people that have made the difference. And wearing a mask sends a message that we are all in this together; it is this feeling we all need right about now!

Hajji Dr Roshan Khan