There is no denying that surgical masks are the most in-demand consumable product worldwide these days. But are we completely safe with it?

On December 31, 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported a pneumonia outbreak that originated from Wuhan, China. It was later determined that the disease was caused by a coronavirus. The virus is a new strain from the large family of coronaviruses that cause varied illnesses, ranging from common colds to more severe diseases. And since it’s a new strain and has not been previously identified in humans, it’s given the name Novel Coronavirus or nCoV. Common signs of nCoV infection include cough, fever, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. These respiratory symptoms could escalate and become severe, leading to pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure, and worse, death.

The coronavirus has spread as quickly as reported. As of February 12, 2020 update, the number of infected individuals has already reached more than 45,000 worldwide, with over a thousand deaths. The majority of these cases are in mainland China. Since the pneumonia outbreak, people from all over the world became increasingly worried, causing them to frantically move to protect themselves. Their immediate reaction was to cover themselves with surgical masks.

Proper way to wear a surgical mask

But do masks really protect you?

According to many health professionals, while surgical masks help keep germs at bay, these are not all that we need to do. Rather, proper hygiene, a strong immune system, and a healthy lifestyle are the best protection against diseases, including nCoV.

The most common type of surgical mask that people wear is the blue-and-white sided. Although many people are also using the N95 and more expensive ones. Since the surgical masks are our “frontline” protection, it might as well be necessary for non-medical practitioners to know the proper way to wear masks. Alright, I’ve seen most people are wearing it correctly (covering the nose, mouth, and the chin). But there are also some who use it the wrong way (by not fully covering the chin).

In the Philippines, where some provinces were affected by the January 12 Taal Volcano eruption, many doctors from the Department of Health (DOH) gave further advice on how to achieve better protection when using surgical masks.

Using the blue-and-white sided surgical masks

  1. If you are NOT sick. Doctors say that if you are healthy and, of course, don’t want to catch the virus, you should position the blue side of the mask right next to your face. The white side should be on the outer side to filter the tiny particulate matter from entering your mouth and nose. It’s because the fabric on the white side is more tightly woven than that of the blue side. Fortunately, a single cell of a coronavirus is too big to penetrate into the fabric of the blue-and-white type of surgical mask.

  2. If you ARE sick. You should wear the mask with its white side facing you. In this manner, you don’t spread the virus to other people.

Using the N95 surgical mask

DOH authorities further advise that the N95 surgical mask is better used for protection against volcanic ashfall. The volcanic ashfall particles are way tinier compared to that of a coronavirus. A single cell of an ashfall is 30 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair strand. The N95 is designed to tightly snug on your face to keep the very tiny airborne matter from penetrating.

Nevertheless, even if WHO has reported on February 11, 2020 that “no new countries reported cases of 2019-nCoV in the past 24 hours”, we should all still continue to be vigilant. And, the most important thing people should do is to NOT panic. Panicking does not help at all. It only adds more stress on us.