Since the beginning of the global COVID-19 pandemic, Bahamians were told they did not have to wear masks unless they were sick, caring for a sick person who is unable to wear one, or if they were among health care workers.
The reasons for not wearing masks ran the gamut from not offering significant protection from germs, to regular people don’t typically wear them correctly, to wearing one gives people a false sense of security, causing them to be lax about hand washing and social distancing – but in recent days, Bahamian health officials have done an about face on face masks. The Ministry of Health’s recommendation is, now, that people wear masks to help stop the spread of the coronavirus in The Bahamas. And, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis, in the House of Assembly on Monday, encouraged people to wear non-medical masks in public as a personal defense measure, particularly by people who may not show any symptoms.
Bahamians are urged to make use of cloth face coverings for day-to-day use and going about their business.
“It [cloth mask] can be partially helpful,” said Dr. Nikkiah Forbes, director of the National HIV/AIDS and Infectious Disease Programme at the Ministry of Health.
Forbes said people should be cognizant of the hygiene protocols that should be practiced with the cloth face coverings and they should always put on a mask with clean hands. And, once the mask is on, people should remember that physical distancing still has to happen and that just because people are wearing masks, does not mean that they can gather together or be in close contact with others.
“You still have to be three [preferably] six feet away from persons with a mask on,” said Forbes.
Once you have a mask on, the doctor said it should not be touched. She said you don’t adjust it or rub it, even though they can sometimes get hot and uncomfortable.
When a mask gets damp with respiratory droplets, that means it needs to be removed, washed with soap and water and put out into the sun to dry. And, she says everyone has water vapor when they exhale.
“If it gets soiled, you have to wash it the same way and put it out to dry.”
She said cloth masks should be washed regularly.
It doesn’t have to be every day, but you need to wash them if they’re soiled or feeling moist and damp – and, obviously, if you’re wearing it, it’s going to get moist and damp; after some period of time, you’re going to have to swap it out and use another one,” she said.
Cloth face coverings, once dry and not being used, she said, should be stored in either in a clean plastic bag or in a clean box.
Forbes said people should ensure they handle their masks with clean hands at all times, including when taking off, which she said should happen from the back.
“If you use dirty hands and pull it off from the front, you’re going to potentially put germs, and even, possibly, COVID-19. If you’d been in touch with COVID-19, then it would be on your hands, then it would be on your face.
Paper masks, of course, are wear once and throw away.
“A cloth face covering will provide some protection, if used properly and if you are sick. And, even if you have COVID-19 infection and you’re not sick, it will be helpful in reducing the infection from spreading.
The Bahamas has 29 confirmed coronavirus cases, five deaths and 324 people in quarantine as of Sunday. Worldwide, there were 1,260,104 confirmed cases and 68,413 deaths.
On the about face on face masks, Forbes said, initially, Bahamian health officials advised that masks be used by health care workers, or people providing supportive care for a loved one at home, as well as for people with coughs, runny nose and fever – to protect the person providing health care. And, to stop the sick person’s droplets from landing on other people.
Now, she said the school of thought is trending toward everybody wearing masks because there are people who are asymptomatic, and for people who are COVID-19-infectious that are not having symptoms, she said, wearing a mask would reduce droplets from escaping and help to contain the infection.
Forbes stressed that their [Ministry of Health] advice for everyone going about their regular activities – grocery store and running errands about town – and who have to come into contact with people, is to wear cloth face covering and not medical masks, so as to not deplete the supply for health care workers.
The United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC) also advises the use of simple cloth face coverings to slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus and do not know it, from transmitting it to others. The CDC’s advice is that cloth face coverings are not be placed on young children under age two, anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance.
According to the CDC, cloth face coverings should fit snugly, but comfortably, against the side of the face; be secured with ties or ear loops; include multiple layers of fabric; allow for breathing without restriction; be able to be laundered and machine-dried without damage or change to shape.
And, that individuals should be careful not to touch their eyes, nose, and mouth when removing their face covering, and wash hands immediately after removing.