Do I need to wear face mask while I’m driving?

I’ve started to notice many drivers on the road lately wearing a face mask. Is it because I’ve missed another announcement on the radio or is it something they know about COVID that I’m not aware of? Anyhow it is a phenomenon that happens quite frequently and is on the rise. I’ve seen at least 7 drivers wearing a mask on my way to work yesterday morning. Some of you may wonder, – why the heck do people wear a face mask alone driving in their car?! Surely, they are not at risk of contracting any COVID when in the car when no one else is with you. However, in saying that, there are situations where I believe wearing a mask while driving is not so much of a bad idea.

We all know that a surgical face mask can only give us maximum protection if we only use it once. Technically, every time you remove your mask, it must be disposed of to prevent inoculating yourself with viruses. However, in the real world, when you are paying approximately $2 for a surgical face mask, you would want to maximise its usage to make it worth the money – right? In this case, by wearing your face mask for as long as possible, it can not only protect you from COVID but also your bank account too. Let’s be real, if you are travelling only a short distance between stops then there is no reason for you to remove your mask only to have to put it back on again (hopefully not the same mask you’re removed from your face). Otherwise, try to think of your car as an extension of your home. Would you wear a face mask in your home? Obviously not unless you are not feeling well and there are other people in your house with you that you want to protect.

Anyway, I was amazed that many of you reached out to me after reading my last article. There were many questions about face masks in general. I think it would be a good time now to address some of the questions here that I’ve received over the last couple of days. These are the questions I believe many of you might find useful to know.
One of the most frequently asked questions was –

Does the mask protect the people wearing them or the people around them?

Very good question. A face mask is designed to contain the source. This means that it is more effective in preventing the spread and evaporation of large expelled droplets into smaller droplets that can travel a lot further. In other words, it provides the most benefit for people with COVID or suspected COVID infection from passing the virus to other people. However, it also can protect people wearing the mask from getting infected if another measure is also in placed (e.g. social distancing etc.)

How do you wear a mask properly?

Wearing a mask correctly is crucial in protecting you from being exposed to COVID or preventing you from spreading the virus to people around you. Their level of creativity I’ve seen from the way people are wearing their face masks was alarmingly difficult to comprehend. Some of you might say – at least I’m making a conscious effort to wear one.

However, making an effort to wear a mask and wearing them properly are entirely different concepts and should not be taken lightly. Quite frankly, if you are not wearing it correctly, I would suggest you might as well don’t even bother!

·         Before touching the mask, make sure your hands are clean.
·         Inspect the mask for tears or holes; do not re-use surgical face mask that has been worn.
·         When you are wearing a surgical face mask. It is extremely important to verify which side is facing out. I’ve noticed many people are wearing their face mask inside out. It is worth noting that the white side is usually the inside of the mask and the top side is usually where the metal wire is.
·         The face mask must cover your nose, mouth and chin, and make sure there are no gaps between your face and the mask.
·         Always remember to pinch the top metal wire and mould it to the shape of the bridge of your nose so that it gives a proper seal.

Does the type of mask we wear matter?

Interesting enough, this is a common question circulating within the group. I could pick out studies that have compared the efficacy of different face mask materials. However, in my honest opinion, always chose the mask that you can wear comfortably and consistently for a long period. In other words, for the general public, I would choose comfort more than anything else. I see some people walking along the street wearing an N95 respirator. Is this overkill? I’m not in a position to say that. However, I don’t see it as necessary outside a medical situation like working in a COVID intensive care unit. A typical disposable surgical face mask would be the most ideal. But a cloth mask would do the job nicely as well with the added benefit of comfort.
The whole point of asking everyone out and about to wear a face mask is to reduce the risk of community transmission rather than absolute prevention. In other words, any face mask that covers your nose and mouth would be beneficial.

Should I wear a face mask with a valve?

As I was walking along St Heliers Bay last weekend, I saw quite a few people wearing a reusable face mask with a plastic valve. It certainly captures my attention immediately – but in a bad way. It made me subconsciously try to stay away from them. The answer to this question is simply – No! Although a valve may make breathing a little easier for people with claustrophobia or respiratory problems. The valve may allow unfiltered air and droplets to escape into the surrounding air at high speed every time you breath out. This is because the valve filters are designed to filter the air you breathe in, but they don’t filter the air you exhale.  Considering that the main reason for wearing a face mask is to reduce the amount of air exhaled to get into the environment, using a face mask with valve filters defeat the purpose of face covering.

Mask can cause carbon dioxide build-up?

A patient of mine asked me whether wearing a face mask could make us feel unwell because he read somewhere saying that wearing a face mask could lead to carbon monoxide build-up under the mask. This is an interesting and logical question. However, a simple answer to this is not true. This is because no matter how well fitted a face mask is, the mask will offer an adequate airflow which makes an accumulation of carbon monoxide impossible.

If we’re practising social distancing, do we still need to wear masks?

Wearing a face mask, washing your hands, and keeping your distance are the three gold standards to prevent transmission of COIVD-19. There is a significant amount of evidence available to suggest transmission of COVID-19 through inhaled droplets. In other words, wearing a face mask is important to stamp out COVID-19 and we should always wear it and maintain social distancing if possible.

I hope you have found my answers to commonly asked mask questions helpful – if you have other questions about them, feel free to email me.

To your health,