While the World Health Organisation (WHO) has until this point not advised wearing a face mask to go out, the UK guidance may change in the future.
On a Scotland specific front, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has advised Scots to wear ‘face coverings’ when in shops or on public transport.
Speaking at her daily press briefing, Ms Sturgeon said coverings like scarves may help prevent the spread of coronavirus.
She made clear that she was referring to coverings over the mouth and nose made of “cloth or other textiles” through which you can breathe, and not to medical-grade PPE used by NHS workers.
So where can you still get face masks – and is it safe to make your own?
Where can I buy a face mask?
As it stands, surgical supplies for face masks are low, but there are face masks available to buy on Amazon and other online retailers.
When buying a face mask, make sure to follow the advice on how to wear them correctly and how to dispose of them.
Read more: Can I reuse a face mask? Hygiene rules around surgical masks – and if you can wash them
Can I make my own face mask?
You should consider making your own face mask so you don’t contribute to the shortage that is currently affecting the likes of hospitals and other medical centres.
The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that DIY masks can be made as a last resort in times of crisis, and should be used “in combination with a face shield that covers the entire front (that extends to the chin or below) and sides of the face”.
The CDC recommends wearing “cloth face coverings” in public settings where social distancing measures might be harder to maintain, such as supermarkets or pharmacies.
It’s worth noting that the CDC’s advice is intended for its home country of America, and not the UK.
A study from Smart Air Filters found that tea towels, cotton t-shirts and cotton pillowcases are the best materials to use for making your own DIY face masks – this is due to their ability to capture particles while still remaining breathable.
There are various YouTube instructional videos showing how to make face masks if you’re good at sewing.
If you don’t know how to sew, or don’t have access to sewing materials, you can alternatively choose to cut up something like a t-shirt and tie it around your head.
When should I be wearing a mask?
UK-wide there is currently no guidance in place instructing people to wear masks, but other countries have implemented stricter measures.
If the advice was to change here, you may be expected to wear a mask whenever you leave your house.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has advised Scots to wear ‘face coverings’ when in shops or on public transport.
But while the Scottish government now recommends using face coverings, they will not be enforcing them.
The evidence is relatively weak,” Ms Sturgeon said, “and we are not, at this stage, making it mandatory or suggesting that it will be enforced, though we will be keeping that under review.”
Wearing a mask will not prevent you from contracting the virus, but it will help to stop the spread of the coronavirus by those without symptoms.
The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention states: “CDC advises the use of simple face cloth coverings to slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others.”
The CDC continues to say that face coverings can be fashioned from household items, or made from materials commonly found in the home, for a low cost.
How do I wear a mask properly?
If you’re going to wear a face mask, it’s imperative that you know how to wear it properly, otherwise the mask is redundant.
WHO says you should follow these steps:
– Before you even put on the mask, clean your hands with soap and water, or an alcohol based hand rub
– Next, cover your nose and mouth with the mask, and make sure that there are no gaps between your face and the mask
– Once you have the mask on, avoid touching it while you’re wearing it – if you do touch it, clean your hands again
– As soon as the mask becomes damp, replace the mask with a new one – never reuse single use masks
– When removing the mask, you should take it off from behind, taking care not to touch the front of the mask, then discard it immediately, and once again, clean your hands
Is WHO changing its stance on face masks?
A panel of WHO advisors chaired by Professor David Heymann is looking into new research that could lead to a change in advice regarding the use of face masks.
A study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) shows that the virus could actually be projected further than previously thought, with coughs able to reach 6m and sneezes up to 8m.
Prof Heymann said that if the evidence of this study is supported, then it could turn out that “wearing a mask is equally as effective or more effective than distancing”.