Face masks in the time of COVID-19: Six questions answered

Face masks in the time of COVID-19: Six questions answered

An office worker wears protective face mask at Raffles Place
An office worker wears protective face mask at Raffles Place (Photo: Jeremy Long)

SINGAPORE: In the time of COVID-19, face masks have become part of everyone's daily routine.

But questions remain. Which face mask should you use? Which is better? When and where should you put them on? 

Like a good piece of personal protective equipment, we have got you covered.

1) WHEN AND WHERE SHOULD I WEAR A MASK?

If you leave your house, you should wear your mask at all times. 

READ: COVID-19: What the law says about having to wear a mask when outside your home

READ: COVID-19: Singapore to distribute improved reusable masks via vending machines, community centres from May 26

According to the Ministry of Health (MOH), this includes while you are on public transport, when you are walking, or when you are at work.

If you fail to do so, you can be fined S$300, with repeat offenders facing higher fines or prosecution in court.

2) WHAT TYPES OF MASKS SHOULD I WEAR?

According to MOH, any mask that "covers the nose and mouth" offers "adequate basic protection" in places where safe distancing and good personal hygiene can be observed. 

READ: WHO warns masks are no 'silver bullet' for ending COVID-19 pandemic

READ: COVID-19: Pre-school and primary school students to get face shields, hand sanitiser 

This includes reusable face masks, DIY masks or plastic face shields - plastic spit guards predominantly covering the mouth are not considered masks.

Face masks

People in reusable face masks in Singapore (3)
A woman wearing a reusable mask at Raffles Place. (Photo: Gaya Chandramohan)

Face masks should:

  • Closely cover the nose and mouth
  • Not leave a gap between the mask and face.

Face shields

preschool face shield
The face shields can be washed with soap and water. (Photo: Temasek Foundation) 

Face shields can be considered in situations where individuals may have difficulty wearing masks due to health conditions which include breathing difficulties, or where "impractical to use a face mask".

If you are a teacher, trainer or lecturer, you can also consider a face shield as long as safe distancing can be maintained.

However, if you have to interact with another person in close proximity, you should put on a face mask.

3) SHOULD I WEAR A FACE MASK BELOW MY FACE SHIELD?

According to infectious disease experts, face shields provide limited protection and should be worn together with other masks in order to be effective. 

READ: Plastic face shields can be used in public, but should be worn with masks to be effective, say experts

Face shields are not meant to replace surgical masks or reusable cloth masks.

The open nature of the face shield protects users against “more forceful projections” but does not completely eliminate exposure or dissipation of droplets, says a professor.

4) WHAT IF I'M ...

WORKING

If you are at work, you need to wear a mask  - it does not matter if you are a frontline staff member or someone who is performing back office functions.

Food handlers, including those who do not face customers, should wear a face mask.

EXERCISING

If you are engaging in strenuous exercise outdoors, you may remove your mask. But you need to put your mask back on once you have completed your exercise.

People exercise along a reservoir during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in Singapore
FILE PHOTO: People exercise along a reservoir during the COVID-19 outbreak in Singapore on Apr 27, 2020. (Photo: REUTERS/Edgar Su)

RIDING/DRIVING

Motorcyclists can remove their masks when riding, but should otherwise wear them at all times.

Anyone travelling in a car or van alone does not have to wear a mask. If the driver and passengers live in the same household, they do not have to use a mask when they are in the vehicle together.

EATING/DRINKING

You can remove your mask when eating, drinking or cleaning your face, but you have to put it back on immediately after.

SMOKING

Members of the public are reminded that they can only leave their homes for essential purposes, working in essential services or to buy food. 

Leaving the house just to smoke is not an essential activity.

If you are out for an essential purpose and wish to smoke, you may do so with the mask removed under the following conditions:

  • Being in an area where smoking is not prohibited under the smoking prohibition law
  • Observing safe distancing measures 
  • Not loitering after smoking

After smoking, the mask should be put back on immediately.

All Designated Smoking Areas within the Orchard Road No Smoking Zone (ORNSZ) as well as smoking corners located beyond the ORNSZ have been closed as part of measures brought in to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

5) WHAT ABOUT MY CHILD?

Wearing a mask is not recommended for children below the age of two for safety reasons. Children who are older than two have to wear masks at all times like everybody else.

People in reusable face masks in Singapore (2)
A child wearing a reusable mask at Raffles Place. (Photo: Gaya Chandramohan)

If you cannot find a suitable mask for your child, you can adjust reusable masks or make your own out of fabric or similar materials.

6) WHAT IF I HAVE DIFFICULTIES WEARING A MASK?

If you have shortness of breath and find that wearing a mask makes the problem worse, you may be more vulnerable to serious COVID-19 infection. 

In this case, you should stay at home as much as possible, and avoid going out unless necessary.

Elderly woman face mask Singapore senior citizen
An elderly woman wearing a protective face mask pushes a cart in Singapore on May 8, 2020. (Photo: AFP/Roslan Rahman)

According to medical experts, some groups may have difficulties when using face masks, including children with special needs and even children older than two.

MOH said that it would "exercise flexibility in enforcement for these groups".

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Source: CNA/ic(rw)

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