Improper disposal of face masks; leads to more COVID-19 infections

BY: By Efia Akese
Most people leave their face masks on table when eating or sitting alone
Most people leave their face masks on table when eating or sitting alone

Wearing a face mask in public is one of the ways to contain the spread of coronavirus.

However, the protective kit could rather lead to the spread of the virus if not handled properly.

According to the Deputy Director for Infections Prevention and Control at the Public Health Unit of the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital, Mrs Serwah Amoah, leaving the mask on bare surfaces and on the floor could contribute to the spread of the virus.

In an interview in Accra with The Mirror last Wednesday, she explained that the outer part of the mask trapped microorganisms which were able to thrive on surfaces for long periods and so the best way to dispose them off was to drop them in dustbins or incinerate them.

“Even our feet can pick the virus and spread it. You can pick the virus with your shoes and take them to your homes and if you have a baby who crawls or children who play on the ground, they can be infected and pass it on to adults. Masks are protective but can be dangerous if we dispose it off indiscriminately.”

She said it was common to see people placing their masks on tables or hand bags especially when eating and wearing them soon after.

Microorganisms trapped in a face mask can thrive on the ground for a long period

She advised that in such instances, it was appropriate to place the mask in a clean zip lock bag or plain rubber bag so they were able to wear again after eating.

Mrs Amoah explained that in removing the mask, one must be careful not to touch the outer part as that was where the microorganisms were trapped.

“In the era of COVID-19, it is important to have a face mask on all the time to protect yourself from breathing in microorganism in the air either through your nose or your mouth and from transmitting any. Proper handling of the mask is equally important because the masks will be of no use if you wear them and instead of protecting yourself and others, end up doing otherwise,” she said.

Mrs Amoah also cautioned that touching the outer part of the mask could also increase the spread, saying “we perform a lot of unconscious activities such as touching the eye, touching the ear, picking the nose and all that so whatever has been deposited on the exterior of the face mask, if you keep touching it, you will pick it up with your hand and you can touch your eyes unconsciously and deposit whatever is on it.”

The appropriate way to adjust the mask, she said, was by pulling the strap behind the ears. Even with that, it is important to wash the hands or use hand sanitisers immediately to prevent the risk of picking up the virus.

‘No mask no entry’ just a sign?
Visit any public place in Ghana and the first sign you will see is ‘No mask, no entry’.

They are boldly written in front of saloons, bars, schools, hospitals, banks, malls and even on the windows of some commercial vehicles.

However, enter some of these facilities and you will spot a few people with face masks on.

You are also likely to see most of the people with their masks on the chin.

Some ‘trotro’ and other commercial drivers even hang the masks by their steering wheel and only use them when approaching police check points.

With the exception of a few banks that insist on washing hands with soap and water before entry, hand hygiene is also rarely practised in public places, including some hospitals.

Some of these facilities have hand wash stations with no soap, no water, no tissue or none of all the three.

Reacting to this, Mrs Amoah said some Ghanaians still believed COVID-19 was a myth or a story made up to scare people until a close friend or relative was infected.

Others also believe drinking different herbal concoctions and steam inhalations makes them immune to the virus and so they do not regard any of the safety protocols.

“We are in the third wave. We should put measures in place to ensure we don’t get more cases. In June, there was a spike and healthcare workers are doing their best to educate the public and enforce the protocols but the feedback from the public is not encouraging. Cultural beliefs still remain a problem as some still don’t believe the virus exists.

“Everybody should have a sense of responsibility. We owe it to ourselves to protect ourselves and each other. If every Ghanaian is doing what is expected, everybody will be safe,” she stated.

‘Vaccine hesitants’
On the ongoing vaccination, Mrs Amoah said some communities were still hesitant about going for the vaccine as they were not convinced while others even discredited the figures put out by the Ghana Health Service on the rising number of cases.

“People have actually been here to see for themselves whether people are actually dying from COVID-19 because they think we are making things up. After the third wave when many people started contracting the virus, then there was a rush for the vaccine even in areas where they didn’t accept it initially. We still have some work to do so we have to focus on the opinion leaders in some areas,” she said.