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The complete fool-proof guide to wearing your face mask

First things first, we must familiarise ourselves with the ways in which COVID-19 is transmitted. Primarily, the virus spreads via respiratory droplets and via physical contact with contaminated surfaces.

The former are spread when someone coughs, sneezes and possibly, even when they breath or speak. The heavier the droplets, the more likely they are to fall to the ground rapidly, within a 1–metre radius.

If you’re in close contact with someone who has these respiratory symptoms, you’re at high risk of being exposed to potentially infective droplets (of anything really, not just COVID-19).

This is the main reason as to why you’ve heard the term ‘physical distancing’ so many times in the last few months.

Let’s say you’ve maintained adequate physical distancing from everyone who has coughed or sneezed. Have you considered that their droplets may have landed on surfaces such as doorknobs, lift buttons or counters? On these surfaces, the virus can remain viable and therefore, the immediate environment of an infected individual can serve as a source of transmission.

Ok, so what do we do?

Well, it’s simple. Studies have shown that face masks help reduce the spread of infection by limiting the spread of infection from infected individuals who may not know they are infected, those that are asymptomatic or those who haven’t developed symptoms yet.

It’s important to note that face masks are not a replacement for keeping physical distancing, observing cough and sneeze etiquette (in a tissue or your elbow please), maintaining hand hygiene and avoiding touching one’s face.

What are the face mask rules?

It is now legally mandatory for everyone to wear a face mask or visor whenever they leave the house, unless exempted.

When you can, a medical or cloth mask (or a mask together with a visor) is preferred to a visor worn alone

The mandatory use of face masks and visors or face shields is conferred by the Public Health Act and a myriad of several legal notices so there really is no point in trying to find a loophole.

And legally?

  • Any person shall, outside their residence, both when going to an indoor place and outdooors, wear a medical or cloth mask or visor in a proper manner covering the nose, mouth and chin. We repeat: nose, mouth and chin

  • It’s the responsibility of the employers to provide appropriate masks and/or visors for their workers and to ensure that these are worn in an appropriate manner, covering the nose, mouth and chin (yes, we said it again)

  • However, although not mandatory, the public health authorities strongly recommend that a face covering is worn when in private homes or in private vehicles when in the company of people who do not form part of the same household

What are the exceptions?

They’re few and far between, that’s what they are.

Firstly, children up to three years of age do not have to wear a mask.

Secondly, people with severe cognitive, physical, mental or respiratory impairments who have difficulties tolerating a mask as certified by a licensed medical practitioner, in which case such individuals shall at all times carry the relevant medical certificate exempting them from wearing a mask

Finally, persons with disability, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) may be exempt on a case-by-case basis, depending on their sensitivity

In particular, children on the autism spectrum have heightened sensory experiences and wearing a face mask over the mouth or elastic pulling at the ears, can cause distress. Increased handling and contamination in this case may be counterproductive.

Any exceptions for temporary removal?

Sure. Here they are:

  • When speaking or providing assistance to any individual who relies on lip reading to communicate

  • In the case of children attending kindergarten, while in the classroom only

  • When speaking or providing assistance to any individual who relies on lip reading to communicate

  • During official public speaking, provided that a physical distance of at least 2m between people is maintained. The delivery of lessons and lectures in schools, universities or other education establishments are not construed as official public speaking

  • If requested to for identification purposes, including at banks, at the airport or seaport or by law enforcement officials

  • To receive any medical or cosmetic treatment or service involving the face or mouth

  • To take medication

  • When seated at establishments where food and drink is served

Got it. What about penalties and fines?

Here’s where it gets interesting. Anyone who breaks the rules is liable to a 100eu penalty, but the penalty can be reduced to 50eu if you admit to the offence and pay the penalty before proceedings commence before the Commissioner of Justice.

How do you wear a mask properly?

Here’s how it works. Firstly, before even putting on your mask, it’s recommended that you clean your hands with soap and running water or an alcohol-based hand rub (which contains 70% alcohol).

Secondly, cover your nose, mouth and chin with the mask and avoid touching the mask while wearing it.

Replace your mask after prolonged use or as soon as it becomes damp.

To remove it, bend your head forward, remove the mask from the straps (don’t touch the front of the mask) discard immediately in a closed bin, or into a wipeable sealed contained, plastic pouch or disposable plastic bag in the case of cloth masks and wash your hands again.

Studies have indicated that accumulated moisture from breathing, for instance, can trap the virus in a mask and make it a strong source of contamination when you remove the mask so it’s of utmost importance that when you remove the mask, it’s removed for disposal or storage until washing or sterilisation for re-use.

Also, it goes without saying, but masks should never be shared.

When you do remove the mask, wash them after each use in a washing machine using laundry detergent at 60 degrees celsius.

Got any questions? Please do not hesitate to get in touch.