It’s been a year and a half since COVID-19 changed life as we know it. Social events, business meetings, and leisure activities were put on halt as everyone was forced to retreat due to the virus’ deadly effects. Since then, doctors, scientists, and governments across the globe have been desperately trying to curb the spread of the disease, through a combination of pharmacologic and non-medical interventions. As vaccination drives around the world continue their life-saving mission, cough etiquette and masks will continue to play a crucial role in ending COVID-19.
Cough etiquette are behaviors that are meant to prevent the spread of infection. This is particularly important at a time when a previously harmless sniffle can now be a cause of anxiety and stress. With these simple measures, you can easily do your part in preventing the spread of COVID-19 and protect others from getting sick.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue each time you cough or sneeze. If tissue is unavailable, cough into your elbow.
- Never cough into your hands or open air as this can easily spread the virus, especially if you touch other objects afterwards.
- Dispose of used tissues immediately.
- Wash your hands often and thoroughly with soap and water or an alcohol-based sanitizer. This breaks down the virus’ membrane, effectively destroying it.
- Avoid touching your mouth, nose, or eyes.
- If you are not feeling well, it would be best to stay home and rest. If symptoms persist, consult your doctor.
These measures along with wearing a mask can greatly decrease the chances of spreading COVID-19.
Masks used to be a symbol of the sick. You would usually only see those worn out in public by someone who is sick, or by healthcare professionals at the hospital. Now, masks are a life-saving tool and a key component in breaking the chain of transmission of infectious diseases like COVID-19.
Research supporting the efficacy of masks is abundant. One study demonstrated a decreased number of droplets transmitted when wearing a mask compared to without one (Anfinrud, Bax, & Bax, 2020). Another study explored the effects of government mandates for face covering in public and found that there was a significant decline in the daily COVID-19 growth rate after the public was mandated to wear masks (Lyu and Wehby, 2020). This is also supported by another study that found that wearing masks are associated with a lower per-capita mortality from COVID-19 (Leffler et al., 2020). Overall, it is difficult to deny the efficacy of wearing masks in public in this time of pandemic, and any contention about this was a product of a lack of knowledge or based on outdated information (ex. Masks were not immediately recommended at the start of the pandemic as there was insufficient research supporting their use in public, compared to later studies that show masks do have a positive impact on curbing the spread of the disease).
How to properly wear your mask (World Health Organization, 2020):
- Wash your hands before and after you wear your mask.
- Ensure that the mask completely covers your nose, mouth, and chin.
- Store your mask in a clean plastic bag when not in use. For disposal, wash your cloth mask everyday or dispose of a medical mask in a trash can.
- Do not use masks with valves.
Make it a habit
We cannot say how long the pandemic will last, but we can each do our part in curbing its spread. Observing cough etiquette and wearing your mask in public (or even indoors, if you are living with a person who is at risk of getting sick) can effectively prevent transmission of COVID-19. As we navigate this new reality together, compassion and understanding will go a long way in ending the pandemic. We must all do our part, no matter how small or simple.
Check out these links if you want to learn more about cough etiquette, wearing a mask, and research on mask efficacy. Here find the ultimate smartphone app for cough tracking – stay aware of your coughs.
Mikaela is a sixth year dentistry student at the University of the Philippines.
Anfinrud, P., Bax, C., & Bax, A. (2020). Visualizing speech-generated oral fluid droplets with laser light scattering. N Engl J Med; 382 (2061-2-063). doi: 10.1056/NEJMc2007800. Accessed on 3 Aug 2021 from https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMc2007800.
Cleveland Clinic. (2021). Cough etiquette: Why it’s so important. Infectious Disease. Accessed on 3 Aug 2021 from https://health.clevelandclinic.org/cough-etiquette-why-its-so-important/.
Leffler, Christopher & Ing, Edsel & Lykins, Joseph & Hogan, Matthew & McKeown, Craig & Grzybowski, Andrzej. (2020). Association of country-wide coronavirus mortality with demographics, testing, lockdowns, and public wearing of masks (Update June 15, 2020). Accessed on 3 Aug 2021 from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/342198360_Association_of_country-wide_coronavirus_mortality_with_demographics_testing_lockdowns_and_public_wearing_of_masks_Update_June_15_2020.
Lyu, W. and Wehby, G. (2020). Community use of face masks and COVID-19: Evidence from a natural experiment of state mandates in the US. Health Affairs, 39 (8). doi: 10.1377/hlthaff.2020.00818. Accessed on 3 Aug 2021 from https://www.healthaffairs.org/doi/10.1377/hlthaff.2020.00818.
World Health Organization. (2020). Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) advice for the public: When and how to use masks. Accessed on 3 Aug 2021 from https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public/when-and-how-to-use-masks.