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  • Writer's pictureJoe

Coronavirus, personal protection equipment in the public sphere

Discussion of personal protection equipment ("PPE") in the news media has centred on PPEs for health care workers, but relatively little has been said guiding the general public of what to wear, and what not to wear, when they go to the grocery store.

(The exception, I suppose, occurred last week when major news organisations pushed for the government to talk about wearing masks in public. The news media caused a kerfuffle by calling for the government to officially sanction the donning of masks by the general public. Basically, the news media wanted everyone who is outdoors to wear a mask. Even, on Twitter, the editor-in-chief of Mother Jones publicly shamed all runners for not wearing a mask. She felt that she was being exposed to "the huffing and puffing" of joggers and runners when they passed her on the sidewalk. I didn't understand this response for many reasons, but here's one: COVID-19 attacks a person's respiratory system and seriously disables most people who have it. These people can't get out of bed or walk across the room without gasping for air. Someone who's out for a 5-mile run doesn't have it. Maybe the person's asymptomatic and shedding the virus as they run or jog. Fair point! But this isn't a good understanding of what being asymptomatic is. It doesn't mean that the person wouldn't be impaired; rather, it means that the cough, fever, and other apparent physical markers of COVID-19 would be absent. Absence of the physical manifestations doesn't mean the person's respiratory system wouldn't be affected at all; on the contrary, one's running or jogging would be affected by the asymptomatic version of COVID-19. It's likely that that person would feel pressure in their chest and be unable to go for that run or jog. So, please, before we start shaming people for being healthy, let's ask a medical practitioner for good and reasonable advice.)

If you've been out to the grocery store, you'll notice that PPE in public varies. Some people do not wear masks or gloves. This doesn't mean they're being stupid. They take other precautions by washing their hands, using hand sanitiser and wipes, and--perhaps most importantly--refraining from touching their face, especially the mouth, eyes, nose, and ears.

Others don masks, gloves, long-sleeve shirts and long-sleeve pants so that the only body parts not covered are hair and eyes. One friend of mine wears a ski helmet and goggles to cover hair and eyes. Good going, you say! Well, guess again... Those people are likely not nearly as protected as they think such armour provides them.

Let's remember, the WHO, CDC, Surgeon General, and other entities have been clear about who ought to wear masks: those people who have a confirmed case of COVID-19, who are responsible for a person with COVID-19, or who suspect that they have been exposed to COVID-19. If you do not fit into one of those categories, you need not wear a mask.

If you choose to wear a mask (a hat/helmet, goggles, etc), then be aware that there is an appropriate way to don and doff the mask properly. Not following the guidelines will likely result in more harm than not wearing the PPE. Before you don the mask and other PPE, wash your hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds. It's more like 30 seconds to a minute before your clean, but 20 seconds will do. Then, use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser to clean your hands. Then, cover your mouth and nose with the mask. Make sure there are no gaps between your face and the mask.

When you are out and about at the grocery store, do not touch the mask. This is the most difficult and least followed advice. Masks irritate the skin around the mouth and nose. Don't believe me. Notice the medical practitioners that the news media invite to shows and notice how the skin around the nose and mouth appear red and irritated. You will likely want to adjust your mask when you are out. When you do so, you expose yourself to germs, bacteria, and--possibly--COVID-19.

If the mask feels damp, it's time to replace it. You're respirating when you wear a mask. That creates some water droplets and dampens the mask. This renders the mask ineffective against viruses, bacteria, and other germs. Remove the mask immediately and discard it in the rubbish--a closed bin.

Doffing the mask, be sure to remove it from behind. Do not touch the front of the mask. Remember that the number one reason a person has for wearing the mask is not to be exposed to the virus. If water droplet with the virus is on the mask, then touching the front of the mask will expose the wearer to it. Discard the mask immediately. But my dearest aunt made me this lovely mask and I want to wear it again. NO! Don't reuse the mask or wear it again. But I have a P100 industrial strength construction mask, haha! So what! An expensive industrial strength mask doesn't make it impervious to the virus. Remove it and discard it, period.

This brings me to the takeaway message. Just because you've donned a mask outdoors, it doesn't make you invincible. On the contrary, because you feel more protected against contracting the virus, you'll likely be more clumsy about personal hygiene. Be careful! While the following advice won't help you when the mask and other PPE are irritating you as you decide between Skippy or Jif at the grocery store, it'll help you along before and after the experience. Have a partner or friend living with you in your so-called bubble watch you don and doff the mask or other PPE. They can tell you when you're doing it correctly.

But for God's sake, spare us all and just stay home!

Check out for more helpful information and advice about PPE in the public sphere.

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