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Mask on, mask off

Updated: Jun 15, 2020

Just like a senior minister’s inability to recall the names of cabinet colleagues, the push to wear masks or face-coverings in public places from the 15th of June is alarmingly real. Yes friends, it’s all about nose, chin and ears - those key body parts, one of which was  cruelly forgotten from everyone’s favourite childhood song. I’m talking about how to remember the order in which to position your mask, because it's important to do it correctly so that you don't spread germs around the veritable Bermuda triangle of mask-face-hands. Those of you au fait with flying to the lovely French Riviera will easily trot out the acronym ‘NCE’ (nose, chin, ears - right?) which is happily the airport code for Nice. But never mind the carbon-heavy air-travel, can I steer you back to the importance of frequent thorough handwashing? And don't forget social distancing as well. 2m, at the time of writing.

Now, you might be wondering where to get a mask from or whether the papery surgical masks are better than fabric ones. Well, surgical masks may just have the edge but NHS and care home staff need these for seeing ill patients, so stock depletion would be very very bad. Same as the toilet paper stockpiling fiasco, right? The bottom line (sorry) is, please don't buy surgical masks. Instead, invest in a couple of  fun or stylish cloth masks. You can buy these in shops (try The Bishy Weigh), online, and many charities are selling them too. Plus some of the designs are really fantastic. Accelerate your lockdown facial hair with a novelty moustachioed mask. Or if you fancy whipping out your Husqvarna, make your own using this pattern which your dedicated blog writer has tried and tested. Don't forget to pop in a pipe-cleaner to the upper hem so you get a nice snug fit over your schnoz. Size matters, because a poorly-fitting mask is like a chocolate teapot: in essence a very tempting idea, but the reality is sadly ineffectual.

Predictably there’s a sustainability angle here too. Unlike the disposable versions which have been seen littering beaches recently, fabric masks are joyfully reusable, and fantastically cost-effective, and are therefore much better for the environment. Here, have the planet point you lost flying out to Nice on that sneaky city break! Also, imagine the one-upmanship you can have with your neighbours, covertly competing over whose washing line has the most amusing/coolest masks on display, or passing them in the street with a smugly raised eyebrow and a pitying wave of facially-superior consolation.

The frightening prediction is, if every person in the UK used a disposable mask daily for a year, we'd end up with 66,000 tonnes of yucky potentially contaminated plastic waste. It's thought that surgical masks have 10 times the environmental impact of fabric masks. Yikes. Let's recap the link to human health here folks: disposable masks in landfill will decay and release noxious fumes that have a direct effect on health (nobody with asthma enjoys smog, right?), and an indirect effect via contributing to global warming: this affects our lovely wildlife ecosystems (RIP coral reefs), and weather systems (remind me which letter of the alphabet we're on for hurricanes now?). The ensuing droughts and floods cause death and disease in many countries. As well as potentiating malaria. Oh and Zika. Enough?

As the government has highlighted, nobody really knows exactly how effective masks are in terms of stopping the wearer both getting and spreading the virus because in previous pandemics not enough people have worn them for good quality studies to be done. The thinking is, that to be truly effective, most of the population needs to mask-up, a bit like herd immunity (sorry, too soon?) and this is known as 'mass masking' (try saying that after a few cans of scrumpy) and is already compulsory in public places in many countries, so it makes sense that we are following suit. Czech out this list (sorry) including Austria, Turkey, Poland, France, Germany, Spain, and, er, the Czech Republic. Ahem.

Now, this guidance only applies on public transport and if you're visiting a hospital. Some businesses e.g. taxi firms have also employed similar rules, and at OSMP we're already asking anyone visiting the surgery to please wear a mask or scarf, and we've been very grateful for the understanding shown by patients. But don't worry if you're under 11, have a disability or breathing difficulty, or are accompanying someone who relies on lip reading - you're exempt from the new national mask-wearing rules.

Remember comrades, masks are most effective if they fit properly, are made of cotton, and are used in combination with frequent excellent hand washing and social distancing. So please, no more bidding on eBay for catering-sized shipments of N95 respirators. Instead, sit back and watch re-runs of Wimbledon with strawberries and, er, maskarpone...

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