Frequently Asked Questions

Question:   Will wearing a face mask prevent me from catching the coronavirus?

Basically, no.  The World Health Organisation advice is that "there is currently no evidence that wearing a mask by healthy persons in the wider community setting can prevent them from infection with respiratory viruses, including COVID-19."

In fact, if it's not done properly then wearing a face mask can increase your risk of catching Covid-19.  One major source of infection is touching contaminated surfaces (e.g. door handles) and then touching your nose, mouth or eyes.  Wearing a face mask won't stop you from rubbing your eyes with a contaminated hand.  If you're not careful taking your face mask off then you can get contaminated by any virus that has been trapped on the outer surface of the mask (and since the coronavirus survives better in moist conditions, it's likely to persist for longer on fabric that's been directly in front of your mouth).  And if you think you're "safe" because you're wearing a mask you may neglect other very important practices such as washing your hands frequently and thoroughly, keeping at least 2 metres away from other people and avoiding touching your face with your hands.


In that case, why should I wear a face mask?


There is now a growing body of evidence that, although a face mask doesn't offer any significant level of protection to the wearer, if enough people wear face masks this does reduce the transmission of Covid-19 through the population.

During the Government's coronavirus briefing on Thursday 30th April, Boris Johnson said that "As part of coming out of the lockdown, I do think that face coverings will be useful both for epidemiological reasons, but also for giving people confidence that they can go back to work."

During an episode of The Briefing Room on the subject of Easing the Lockdown (broadcast on Radio 4 on 23‑Apr‑2020) Martin McKee, Professor of European Public Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, was asked whether people should wear face masks.  He said "Nobody, I think, is suggesting that we should be wearing surgical masks – at least I hope not.  We're talking about face coverings, made of cloth, that can be washed and re-used, and we are seeing these being implemented in Germany, in Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Morocco.  There's new research coming out of Hong Kong University showing that even a tea towel – any cloth covering – can significantly reduce the spread of coronaviruses, and one of the reasons for this is that, unlike a number of respiratory diseases that are spread by coughing from people who are already showing symptoms, coronaviruses are spread by ordinary talking, often before people develop symptoms."

So if you choose to wear a face mask it shouldn't be to protect yourself from Covid-19.  It should be to contribute to a community effort to suppress the transmission of the coronavirus.


For more on the science of face masks and whether members of the public should wear them, listen to the episode of BBC Inside Science broadcast on Thursday 7‑May‑2020.


When should I wear a face mask?


Wearing a face mask will make most difference (a) indoors, and (b) in situations in which it is difficult to maintain a two metre separation from other people.

The main transmission route for coronavirus is via moisture droplets exhaled as an infected person coughs, sneezes, talks or simply breathes.  Outdoors in the open air, the smaller droplets will disperse quickly and most of the larger droplets will fall to the ground, where people are not likely to touch them with their hands.  In enclosed spaces, however, the concentration of smaller droplets in the air can build up and some of the larger droplets will fall on to surfaces (e.g. seats, tables, door handles, etc.) that other people are likely to touch.  Japanese researchers who studied 110 cases of Covid-19 transmission estimated that the odds of the infection being passed on were nearly 19 times greater indoors than when outside in the fresh air.

The chances of Covid-19 transmission from an infected person to someone else depend on how close they get to each other and how long they stay in close proximity.  According to an article on the BBC web site, one leading scientist says that "spending two seconds one metre apart is as dangerous as spending one minute two metres apart".

Therefore, if you're an asymptomatic carrier of the coronavirus – so you're unaware of the risk that you pose to other people – wearing a face mask will make the biggest difference to your chances of passing on the virus when you're indoors and in close proximity to other people; e.g. on public transport or in shops, doctors' surgeries, face-to-face meetings, etc.


By buying this batch of face masks, are you making it more difficult for the NHS to get the face masks it needs?


Absolutely not.

One of the main reasons why the UK Government has been very wary about recommending that people wear face masks is a concern that if lots of people go out and buy surgical face masks then this will compromise the supply to the NHS, and the World Health Organisation's view is that "Medical masks should be reserved for health care workers."

The face masks that we're obtaining for Sadberge residents are not medical grade face masks.  Strictly speaking, they're "re-usable cloth face coverings" (although most people would call them "face masks").  The NHS doesn't use this sort of non-medical face mask, and when one of the SCSN Steering Committe members showed one of the sample face masks to a friend who works in the NHS her immediate reaction was "that's not a face mask".

Also, we're buying the face masks from a Bulgarian sports clothing supplier that has turned its manufacturing plant over to making face masks and other items of protective equipment, so we're increasing the number of face masks in the UK rather than competing with other organisations for the face masks that are already here.

We are therefore very confident that buying these face masks will not, in any way, compromise the NHS supply chain.


How often should I wash my face mask?


The advice from the supplier is "It is a good idea to wash the mask after each wear (i.e. every day) and iron it whenever possible before using it again."

Separately, the Scottish Government advice on face coverings says that "After each use, you must wash the face covering at 60 degrees centigrade or dispose of safely."


How long will these masks last before they need to be retired and replaced?

Answer: The supplier has told us "As with any fabric, it is suggested that after about one month of use it is good to change to a new one."


Is there a danger that some people might make copies of their vouchers in order to make multiple claims for free face masks?

Answer: We hope that fraud won't be a problem in our village community .... but the vouchers will incorporate security features to prevent people from photocopying them and making multiple claims.  We're obviously not going to publish details of those security features, but rest assured that they'll be there.


Why are you offering the free face masks on a 'per household' basis rather than a 'per resident' basis?


We did consider offering a free face mask to each Sadberge resident, but the logistics would have been too complicated.  Offering each household two free masks is easy.  We just need to deliver a "two free face masks" voucher to each house.  In order to offer a free mask to each resident we'd need to do a census to find out how many people live at each address.

As it is, each household will have the opportunity to get up to six face masks – two free masks plus up to four additional masks at £1.50 each.  Also, provided that people don't take more than they need, it's likely that there will be some masks available for sale after the end of the two week period for using the vouchers.  And, if there's sufficient demand, we'd be happy to look at the possibility of getting another batch of masks – although this would be on a "paid for" basis, and we'd need pre-orders for at least 500 masks.

If you have any other questions, please contact Alastair Mackenzie on 07966-312980.

You can use this link to go back to the main Face Masks page.