How wearing a mask

could slow down the spread of Coronavirus

by | Jun 1, 2020 | Communication, Latest News

wearing a mask

With South Africa having moved into lockdown level 3 as of 01 June 2020, we saw an easing up on restrictions on personal movement, opening up of commerce and places of worship. With more people mingling in close enough proximity to each other, the community transmission of coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) is likely to increase exponentially unless every individual takes basic precautions.

It’s now in our hands

 In addition to regular washing/sanitising of hands and maintaining a physical distance of at least 1,5 m from each other, the public has been encouraged to wear cloth face masks to slow down the spread of the coronavirus.

While the majority of South Africans are wearing masks when out in public, many are not aware of the rationale or the science behind wearing a mask. The risk of a drop-off in adherence to mask-wearing is likely to occur as lockdown regulations fatigue sets in.

Strategies that drive compliance in the healthcare space show that informed patients who understand the context of their disease, how their medication works, why a change in behaviour is required and what they need to do, are more likely to be persistent with treatment. We’re hoping that the same principle will apply to drive adherence with mask-wearing.

Why are we highlighting the use of face masks?

Regular hand washing/sanitising and physical distancing have been messages that have been widely broadcasted, and well-received by the public since the start of the pandemic. The wearing of masks by the public was initially questioned by scientists and governments based on working theories at the time. With more time to study this new virus, new theories and recommendations are being proposed.

The coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) multiplies in the cells of the respiratory system of an infected individual. The new virus particles become suspended in the bodily fluids of the lungs, nose and mouth. With each outward breathe during speaking or coughing, the bodily fluid becomes aerosolized, sending out tiny, virus-laden droplets into the air. 

Just by saying the words “stay healthy”, a person could spray thousands of droplets into the air.

A single cough can produce up to 3,000 fine droplets. A sneeze releases a whopping 40,000 droplets into the air.

Recent research has shown that between 25 – 50 % of people infected with the coronavirus have no symptoms and could be unknowingly spreading the virus.

Cloth face masks act as a barrier to the forceful outward spray of droplets from the mouth and nose of an infected person, reducing the transmission of the virus in communities especially if used in crowded areas or on public transport.

Models show that if even 80 % of the population wore a face mask that blocked 60 % of the virus, we could contain the spread of the coronavirus faster.

Creating symbolism around wearing a mask

Science by itself rarely shifts behaviour. Ritual and solidarity, when combined with visible signals help shape new societal behaviours. Universal mask-wearing is not just a reminder that the virus is still very much a part of our life, but that ordinary people are now empowered to keep it at bay. It underscores a sense of altruism – everyone else’s health-focused behaviours improve the health odds of everyone else. Simply put, my mask protects you. Your mask protects me.

There’s no point in keeping all this information to ourselves.

We created a series of downloadable infographics that we hope simplify the science and help tell a story to drive positive action by the public.

They’re available in a variety of local languages thanks to the efforts of everyday heroes like Dr Iselle Combrink, Dr Ntlotleng Mabena, Ms Bongiwe Klaas and Mr Schalk Burger.

English infographic

wearing a mask - English infographic

Afrikaans infographic

wearing a mask - Afrikaans infographic

Sesotho infographic

wearing a mask - Sesotho infographic

Zulu infographic

wearing a mask - Zulu infographic

The team who put his together

Schalk Burger

Schalk Burger is the head of design thinking at XEIOH. He makes it his mission to find simple and meaningful design solutions to allow people to easily consume information. His inspiration comes from good music and gardening.

Dr Iselle Combrink

Dr Iselle Combrink is a physician who has been heading up the Emergency Department in a private hospital for the past 15 years. She also holds a post-graduate diploma in Psychiatry and maintains a keen interest in mental health. Iselle is an avid trail runner, mountain biker and all-round adventure seeker. She is a self-professed dedicated dog-mom, obsessed with sunrise hikes and all-dogs-on-board road trips.

Dr Ntlotleng Mabena

Dr Ntlotleng Mabena is a public health physician with diplomas in HIV management, Tropical Medicine, a Master’s in Public Health and graduate certificate in LGBT Health Policy and Practice. Ntlotleng serves as a Director of Bophelo Pele, an NPO based in Orange Farm focusing on HIV testing services, voluntary male circumcision, sexual reproductive health and gender-based violence and rape care. She is deeply spiritual, values family as a priority, enjoys travelling and the outdoors.

Ms Bongiwe Klaas

Ms Bongiwe Klaas is a Data Coordinator at Bophelo Pele. She graduated from Avondale Business College in 1999 and has worked as a Assistant Data and Research Manager, IT Assistant, Office Manager and Secretary. Her superpowers include next-level attention to detail and a quick turnaround time on translations.

Sohini Gowan

Sohini Gowan is XEIOH’s chief medical copywriter and health science strategist. She graduated as a pharmacist but is a storyteller at heart. Her best ideas flow when she is out hiking with her dogs, climbing volcanoes, exploring ice caves or swimming with sharks – anything outside!

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