During the current pandemic, a large number of people adhere to wearing a variety of disposable, surgical face masks in public while many others prefer reusable, washable, ones that are not just light on the skin but also on the pocket. The debate remains, which of these two are better.
These days, it is not uncommon to see a variety of cloth masks being used alongside surgical masks by people all over the world, including Oman. While some prefer the basic necessity, others try to match their attire by using reusable, cloth masks fashioned in different colours and prints to add a feel good factor to the discomfort of wearing masks in public. While doctors have pointed out that masks have their own advantages and disadvantages, people have been trying various methods to ease their discomfort while adhering to prescribed precautions. And that’s how the use of reusable, washable masks have now become common.
Dr Benny Panakkal, senior cardiologist and medical director, Badr al Samaa Group of Hospitals, said, “The US Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends cloth face masks for use by the general public. Cloth face masks do not protect the wearer from getting COVID-19 but prevent the wearer from transmitting the disease to others, if he/she is already infected. So, if everyone wears cloth face masks, it protects everyone. But in healthcare settings, surgical face masks or N95 respirators are recommended, so that it protects the wearer form contracting the disease. The general public can also use surgical face masks, if they’re concerned about better protection for themselves and if there’s no shortage of supplies of these. One must ensure that availability of surgical face masks to healthcare workers are not affected by widespread usage by the general public.
About the discomfort associated with different masks, Dr Panakkal pointed out, for very young children (below two years of age), unconscious patients, or those taking up heavy exercise, if the wearer experiences breathing difficulty, wearing a cloth face mask is not advisable. In such situations, alternate measures should be adopted for prevention of the spread of the disease, like using a respirator, exercising in a private well-ventilated area, stringent social distancing, etc. However, in many countries, including Oman, wearing a face mask is mandatory in public places, he pointed out.
On the other hand, Sarah A Farid, an arts and culture consultant, who runs her own embroidery unit (one started by her mother 15 years ago) which tailors masks and many other popular fashion accessories, believes that cloth masks are being designed by various people to offer users choices to ease their discomfort. The masks she has been designing are washable, reusable, good to look at, as well as light on the face. They include three protective layers of fabric and are designed as per specifications popularised by various sources, including the World Health Organization.
“We do not include any fancy, extra filter, just three layers of cotton and linen which make them washable, reversible and eco-friendly as you do not have to dispose them off after every use,” says Sarah, adding, “I hope cloth masks provide protection, as per medics advice. I am no one to state it does.”
About the possibility of designers adding layers of filters to cloth masks, Dr Panakkal said, “If they add filters that protect the wearer, these should be of standard quality. Some cloth masks have a section within for placing disposable filters, which can be replaced after every use while the mask can also be washed. However, one important consideration is about how a person wears the mask. It should cover both, nose and mouth, adequately. Just keeping a mask over the chin doesn’t do any good. Unfortunately, this seems a very common practice!”
Sarah, who has her own art gallery on Instagram and has organised exhibitions of handmade art and crafts, besides the works of artisans, with selected brands from the GCC, has also auctioned off some exceptional hand embroidery work for charity. She believes that every person is instrumental in making like easy or better for others and her creations are designed with that purpose in mind.
“My masks were designed to suit my loved ones, besides myself, keeping comfort and functionality in mind. They are light, eco-friendly, and attractive, so as to add a feel-good factor to the wearer,” says Sarah who admits that she felt the need to design her own masks since she felt claustrophobic using conventional medical masks. Her masks are designed in different sizes to suit men, women and children and are marketed on her online Insta store (@heritagethreadoman)
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