to mask or not to mask? #TheCOVIDDiaries

In the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic, a previously often overlooked item in the doctor’s tool bag has suddenly gained worldwide prominence – the surgical face mask. Chances are that unless you’re Asian or lived in Asia prior to the outbreak, you probably never saw so many face masks on the street in your life. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. It is a good thing in that it indicates that people are taking this disease seriously enough to want to protect themselves, a bad thing because there is now a massive worldwide shortage of masks, and personal protective equipment in general, such that the people who are most at risk, and therefore most in need of them – frontline health workers – are struggling to find them. For example, I bought the regular surgical mask in late January/early February for N50 (about $0.13) a piece. Now, my regular pharmacy refuses to stock them because she says they will have to be sold for about N700 ($1.8) a piece, if she is to make any profit on them.


There have also been quite a few misconceptions about the use of masks, in this period, many of them aided by unverifiable internet sources. But before we go to misconceptions, here are a few different types of masks:

Also to note that regarding cloth face masks, the general consensus is that although they are less than ideal, they are better than nothing. Indeed, a few studies has shown that under normal circumstances, cloth masks may increase your risk of contacting respiratory infections. But right now, as the world grapples with this disease that has caught everyone flat footed, it seems any protection is better than no protection.

Although it seems like masking is the new cool, and some authorities are even advising everyone to wear masks, the World Health Organization has a slightly different take on the use of masks

The misconception about wearing face masks that has me triggered the most (yeah, I am owning it!) in this period, has to do with how surgical masks are worn. So, I went to the bank before the lockdown, and behold, everyone was wearing their face masks inside out! By this, I mean that they had the colored side against their faces, and the white part facing out. Apparently, they had seen on this Al Gore’s internet that you wear the white side facing out if you’re not sick, and the colored side out if you’re sick.


There’s only one way to wear a surgical mask. It is not with the white part out. For the avoidance of doubt, the only correct way to wear a surgical mask is with the colored side facing OUT. Take it from someone who spent years wearing a surgical mask, and for whom a surgical mask was once a daily routine.

But if you don’t believe me, here you go:

Thanks for coming to my Ted talk. Wash your hands, #StaySafe and #StayAtHome. Together we can #FlattenTheCurve

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