The Covid-19 pandemic reached 36 million infected people last week, about a million of them in Spain (835,901), according to data from the WHO and the Ministry of Health respectively. Despite the recommendations of the competent authorities, the masks are used improperly and irregularly in certain sectors of the population.

Mistakes when wearing masks decrease their effectiveness and can neutralize their ability to filter viral particles, to the detriment of the safety of the user and their immediate environment.

Watch out! These mask-wearing mistakes increase exposure to Covid-19

Handling the mask without washing your hands

Each person touches their face an average of 500 times a day, according to a 2015 study by the University of New South Wales. This habit carries, however, an increased risk of contagion for the user. Hence, infectology specialists recommend washing hands and disinfecting them with alcohol before touching the mask, either to put it on or take it off.

Storing it in a safe place is of great importance. With the use of mask holders, the error of placing them on top of clothes, tables and other surfaces that can serve as ‘refuge’ for SARS-CoV-2 is avoided. This is one of the big mistakes to avoid when using a mask.

Exceeding the estimated time of use

The masks, like the rest of the sanitary material, have a certain duration, an estimated time of use. However, some users “stretch” these products beyond the advisable limits.

The useful life of surgical and hygienic masks reaches 4 hours, the latter being the least durable, because dirt or moisture derived from sweat forces them to be discarded. Certain surgical-type models, however, can be reused after thorough washing and disinfection.

EPI masks should also not be used for more than 4-5 hours. If they show the ‘R’ mark on their label, they can be reused after a wash, unlike the models marked with the ‘NR’ (not reusable).

Do not throw away the mask dampened by sweat

Excessive sweating is not only a social stigma, as revealed by a study by the Liberty Clinic in Barcelona. It also decreases the usefulness of the mask. However, the accumulation of body sweat is natural and inevitable throughout the day. The solution is to replace the mask when it has become damp from sweating. Otherwise, the appearance of microorganisms in the pressure areas of the skin (bridge of the nose, cheeks, etc.) is favored, which reduces the filtering power of its material. Despite being easy to avoid, this is one of the common mistakes when using the mask.

Incorrect mask placement

The WHO and other organizations have released extensive audiovisual content to show the bad practices in the use of masks. They should not hang from the ear, stay on the neck, or cover only the chin, but should cover the mouth, nose and chin. In this way, the areas susceptible to contamination during the inspiration and expiration cycles are protected. But in addition, adjusting it too much or leaving it loose is another mistake when using the mask, since the user sacrifices optimal protection in favor of comfort or aesthetics.

Bad cleaning and disinfection

Most hygienic and surgical masks are marked with the letters ‘NR’ (not reusable).  But others can be reused after 4-5 hours of use. However, one of the errors in the use of the mask lies in the poor cleaning of it.

It is recommended, to disinfect them properly, wash them in water over 120 degrees. It is also useful to steam them for 15-30 minutes. Cleaning can increase its effectiveness with the application of hydroalcoholic gels on the rubber bands and metal parts of the mask.

Remove or lower the mask when talking

The Ministry of Health detailed in Order SND / 422/2020 of the BOE of May 19 that the obligation to wear a mask includes exceptions. For example, when the user develops “activities in which, due to their very nature, the use of the mask is incompatible”. Good examples are eating food or doing intense physical activity.

But the conversation is not contemplated in this exceptional situation. Rather, the function of the mask is to protect the wearer’s environment against droplets of saliva and other secretions released by coughing and talking. Removing the mask to talk, in addition to increasing the risk of contagion, carries fines of 100 to 300 euros, provided for in the General Law of Public Health.

Essential to maintain a safe distance and prevent the spread of Covid-19, masks are the only protection measure with proven efficacy.