Wellington Scoop

Maximising masks

by Dr Amanda Kvalsvig
I welcome the announcement that New Zealanders are being asked to wear masks when they leave home. This is a key outbreak control measure because it significantly reduces the amount of virus people are breathing into the air around them.

So it’s especially relevant when we don’t know the extent of community spread and potentially a large number of people in the community may be infectious without knowing it.

There are two main ways to maximise the effectiveness of wearing a mask. The first is to add multiple layers to increase the filtering effect – aiming for at least three layers, more if you can. The second is to make sure your mask fits closely around your face so that no air is escaping out of the sides. If you can, ask someone to check your mask before you go out so you’re confident that there are no gaps.

A final reminder is that communication will be challenging when everyone is masked up. We’ll need to be patient and creative in our interactions with strangers.

It might be helpful to point to things, write key messages down, or show somebody an image or text on your phone. Alert Level 4 is a great opportunity to brush up on your finger-spelling skills – that’s the alphabet of New Zealand Sign Language. It’s a great way to clear up confusion when someone is struggling to hear.

Dr Amanda Kvalsvig is a Senior Research Fellow at the Department of Public Health, University of Otago, Wellington