Wearing a mask – when and why

The situation around the COVID-19 pandemic is constantly evolving, and so are worldwide responses.

The message around conserving medical face masks for healthcare workers remains very important. Please do not buy such medical masks, even if you can find them.

However, there has been a definite move towards more general wearing of homemade cloth masks for the public. President Ramaphosa, in his statement to the nation on 23 April 2020, also called upon South Africans to wear a cloth face mask whenever they leave home and potentially come into contact with others, for example on public transport and in supermarkets. This is very much in line with leading international practice, with many countries having made it compulsory to wear a cloth face mask when out in public.

The main aim of wearing a mask is not to protect you from infection, but to limit your ability to infect others. In many countries the slogan is, “I wear a mask to protect you; you wear a mask to protect me”. That is because coughing, or even talking, while you are infected can leave a cloud of small virus-infected droplets in the air that can infect others. A mask contains such droplets to your face, inside of the mask or even your clothes, and minimises the chance that you will infect someone else.

This is particularly important, as more and more studies and statistics are showing that many people who are infected by this novel coronavirus develop no symptoms at all, but then still (unknowingly) infect many others around them.

Our Minister of Health, Dr Zweli Mkhize, also advocates the more general use of masks. The Department of Health has even put together an easy-to-follow video tutorial on folding your own mask – no need for a sewing machine!

We therefore encourage you to either buy or make yourself a cloth mask, or use the tutorial on folding a mask, and to always wear one when you have to go out among other people.