By Thays Teixeira
Photo: Fernando Frazão / Agência Brasil

Since the Covid-19 pandemic began, protocols for the widespread use of masks for the entire population have changed. Currently, masks have been recommended as a potential tool to combat the new coronavirus pandemic, because they reduce the risks of direct contagion.

The mask should be worn whenever you leave the house or at home, while caring for people with suspected infection, in the absence of the surgical mask.

The change of protocol for the use of a mask for the general population happened due to experiences in several countries. “The use of the handmade mask, or fabric mask by the general population, ended up having a recent recommendation, as a complementary measure to contain the Covid-19 pandemic, due to the experience of some countries such as Hong Kong and the Czech Republic, and the review of works done during evaluations in previous epidemics by other respiratory viruses ”, justifies the infectious disease physician and researcher at the Center for Studies in Collective Health of the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte (NESC / UFRN), Marise Reis de Freitas.

In eastern countries, for example, the use of masks is widespread and there is different evidence regarding the use of this equipment. “These countries have greater experience in the use of masks, because they have experienced other epidemics of airborne transmission, such as SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome). Little by little, it became apparent that where the use of the mask was more universal, there was a lower rate of contagion ”, explains epidemiologist Ion Andrade, from the Personnel Training Center Doctor Manoel da Costa Souza (CEFOPE) and researcher at LAIS.

Experts explain that these changes are necessary to the extent that the behavior of the pandemic and the virus that causes it is better known. This implies updating normative documents. “The document from the National Health Surveillance Agency (Anvisa) explicitly states that a fabric mask is not recommended. This recommendation is still present for health professionals, that is, in the health environment, he should use a surgical mask or N-95 masks that are respirators, which are filters in special situations ”, reinforces Marise Freitas.

This means that in hospital environments professionals must wear professional masks, and that the general population recommends those masks produced by hand. “It is a complementary measure to everything else, along with hand hygiene and distance between people. The handmade mask ends up having an important complementary role and its objective is to reduce the transmission of the virus through the respiratory tract. As I protect the face, I will reduce his free access, that’s the reason ”, says the infectologist.

Leave home wearing a mask
Handcrafted or professional masks act as a barrier to prevent direct contagion through the airways. This turns it into an important tool to fight the contagion of Covid-19. Thus, the best way to leave the house when necessary is to wear a mask. And there are recommendations to ensure greater security.

The correct fabric, the duration of time with the mask on the face, hygiene and handling are vital so that they can guarantee the effectiveness of its use. “Misuse is always a problem and can have the opposite effect, yes. It is important to emphasize that the person must take the mask by the handles and must not touch the internal or external surfaces, always wash hands before and after putting or removing the mask ”, warns Marise Reis. Therefore, there is no single protection measure.

“Face protection, which is the gateway to the virus, should certainly bring some benefit, but it is necessary to use a mask that minimally can filter the larger particles and use it safely to avoid contamination”, reports the doctor and researcher. The infectologist further reinforces that other sanitary measures such as isolation and social distance, hand washing are also often essential to reduce the rates of contagion.

The use of the mask does not establish an insurmountable protection, it is necessary that people continue to take other care and that if they go out of the house they must be equipped with all of them. “So, the use of the mask does not make all other hygienic measures less necessary, including that of the social distance between people. It is a complementary, important measure that reduces contagion, but all others are still necessary ”, reiterates Ion Andrade.

Materials, hygiene and time of use of handmade masks
No matter what style, color or format, the most important thing is the functionality and the protection capacity that the masks need to have. As we have seen, the use of homemade masks becomes an international phenomenon in the fight against Covid-19, aiming to minimize the increase in cases.

Research has shown that its use prevents the spread of droplets expelled from the user’s nose or mouth in the environment, ensuring a physical barrier to the spread of the virus. Given this scenario, it is recommended that the population can produce their own homemade masks in cotton fabric, tricoline, TNT, or other fabrics, which can ensure good effectiveness if they are well designed and properly cleaned.

According to the “Fabric Masks for the Population Protocol” prepared by the Institute of Tropical Medicine (IMT) of Rio Grande do Norte, there are necessary recommendations to ensure the effectiveness of this equipment. The protocol contains instructions on how to do it, which fabrics to use, care for the masks and the procedures that must be followed on arrival at home.

“The important thing is that it is in good condition, that it is healthy, that it is not punctured, damaged, that it adapts well to the person’s face”, reinforces the infectologist Ion Andrade.

Marise Freitas also reinforces that every three or four hours, the equivalent of a work shift, you have to change your mask. “However, the mask must be changed if it is damp because the person has spoken a lot, sneezed or coughed,” he reiterates. This means that the person needs at least three masks to change whenever necessary.