Virologist Steven Van Gucht answers 3 questions about wearing a face mask
Since the coronavirus (Covid-19) started propagating, the demand for face masks has been increasing continuously. But are these masks really helpful to stop the propagation of the coronavirus ?
Steven Van Gucht, virologist with Sciensano and president of the Coronavirus Scientific Committee, explains: “Wearing a mask to protect oneself from the coronavirus does not really make sense. Wearing a mask is only useful for patients who have been infected by the coronavirus and for the healthcare staff. It is important to ensure the availability of such masks for those persons.”
So, wearing a mask in the street or at work does not protect a person against the Covid-19 coronavirus?
Steven Van Gucht: “Indeed, wearing a surgical mask is necessary for persons who are already infected by the coronavirus. In this case, the masks protect the people around the patient from the germs transmitted when coughing, sneezing or talking. The healthcare staff working in an environment where a patient infected by the coronavirus is under treatment should also benefit from this kind of mask. So, wearing a mask in the street is not very useful for someone in good health.”
How can I protect myself against the Covid-19 coronavirus?
Steven Van Gucht: “The best way to protect oneself against the coronavirus is just to apply the same protection measures as for the season flu:
- Wash your hands regularly with soap and water
- Cover your mouth with a tissue handkerchief when coughing or sneezing and throw it away after use, then wash your hands.
- If you don’t have a handkerchief, cough or sneeze in your elbow, not in your hands
- If you are ill, stay a home.” What kinds of masks are there ?
Steven Van Gucht: “Two kinds of masks are used in the medical sector:
- The surgical mask, as suggested by its name, is used by surgeons during an operation to prevent the germs present in their mouth to enter the wound.
- The respiratory mask (FFP2 & FFP3) is a professional mask intended for healthcare practitioners. Such masks are used in hospitals where patients infected by the coronavirus, or any other infectious disease, are under treatment. They are also used in laboratories where body material from the patients is being analysed. It is important to reserve such masks for use by the healthcare staff. Moreover, the medical staff has learned how to use these masks properly, as it is important to use them with full knowledge and to remove them afterwards. A test should also be carried out to make sure the mask is properly adapted to the face. Wearing a respiratory mask also makes breathing more difficult. So, improper use makes such masks useless.”