SARS: How to Wear a Face Mask
How Should a Face Mask be Worn and Disposed Of?
It is important that face masks should be worn properly, according to the manufacturer's directions, based on the particular mask design. If you do not have access to specific instructions, follow these general procedures.
1. Wash your hands before putting on the mask.
2. Gently stretch the mask so that it covers your nose and mouth. The colored surface should face out and the side with the metallic/plastic integral strip should be on top.
3. For elastic ear-loop masks, the elastic loops on both sides should be worn around the ears.
4. For tie-on masks, the upper strings are tied at the back of the head above the ears, and the lower strings are tied at the back of neck below the ears. The strings should not be crossed as this will create a gap around your cheeks.
5. The mask should cover your nose, mouth and chin.
6. Mold the metallic/plastic strip so that if conforms to the bridge of your nose and achieves the best possible air seal.
7. Surgical face masks are intended to be used for a short period of time (several hours), then disposed of afterwards. It is acceptable however to use them for longer periods under normal conditions. Change them when they are dirty, wetted, contaminated or damaged.
8. Dispose of used masks by putting them in plastic or paper bags. Seal or tie the bags and dump them in a trash bin.
The above instructions are admittedly nothing more than common sense. Nevertheless sometimes even an item so simple as a face mask can be be ergonomically confusing.
Those who are not mechanically inclined, i.e., those whose VCRs are still flashing "12:00... 12:00... 12:00... " a year after they purchased them, might not notice that some masks are not symmetrical. They may confuse the top of the mask with the bottom of the mask. (Note: The top of some masks include a form-fitting metallic or plastic nose strip.)
Worse, they may confuse the inside of the mask with the outside of the mask. Consider the possible downside of such confusion. If one wears a mask one way the first time, but the opposite way the next time, one can easily wind up inhaling contaminants deposited on the front of the mask the first time it was worn. For most wearers this will make no difference whatsoever. For the one wearer in a million whose mask actually intercepted some SARS viruses, it could make a big difference.
Murphy's Law states that "If anything can go wrong, it eventually will." The job of the designer, whether architect, urban planner, industrial designer -- even the designer of something as basic as an inexpensive disposable paper face mask, is to help the end user cheat Murphy's Law. This is no easy assignment, requiring designers to anticipate what might go wrong with a product and design around it in advance. If we think of design as a game of chess, then the great designer is the Grand Master who is able to think several moves in advance. But then that's why we get paid the big bucks, right?
-- Bevin Chu
Explanation: How Should a Face Mask be Worn and Disposed Of?
Illustration(s): Ear Loop Mask, Tie On Mask
Affiliation: Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Clear Water Bay, Kowloon, Hong Kong
Original Language: English
Editor: Bevin Chu, Registered Architect