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Mouth and Nose Covers

The coronavirus Sars-CoV-2, which causes the COVID-19 disease, can be transmitted through air that is released during talking, coughing and sneezing. Creating a mechanical barrier and slowing down transmissions by covering mouth and nose therefore seems logical. The most recent epidemiological RKI bulletin as well as occupational safety standards published by the Federal Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs strongly recommend covering your mouth and nose.

As of April 27, 2020, North Rhine-Westphalia and other German states have made it compulsory to wear face masks in public transport and in retail. Mouth/nose covers can also prevent infection in other areas, especially where the 1.5 to 2 meters minimum distance to other people cannot always be maintained. But a good hand hygiene (washing your hands with soap for 30 seconds), safe coughing and sneezing as well as keeping a minimum distance to others (min. 1.5 meters) are still the most important and effective measures to protect yourself and others.

Always in tune with time: Kekulé memorial in Poppelsdorf. Photo: Volker Lannert/University of Bonn

Types of masks

Nowadays, different terms are being used for masks. For a clear definition, we need to differentiate between makeshift masks made of basic fabrics (“community masks”) and real protective masks that fulfill certain legal requirements (medical face masks and filtering respirators (FFP2/3)).

Community masks

Community masks...

  • are suitable and sufficient when at the supermarket, at work or in public transport.
  • serve as a minor physical barrier for large droplets and prevent you from involuntarily touching your face. Their protective effect, however, is not scientifically proven.
  • must be changed every day (or even more often when they get moist).
  • can be washed at min. 60 °C or, ideally, at 95 °C, put into the tumble-drier at 70-80 °C for 30 minutes or cooked in water for 5-10 minutes.
  • protect others but not the person wearing them. This is why you should not think yourself absolutely safe when wearing this type of mask.

In contrast to community masks, medical face masks and FFP2/3 masks are certified medical devices and intended for single use. It is important that health care professionals have sufficient access to medical face masks and FFP2/3 masks to care for COVID-19 patients. Medical-grade protective masks should therefore be reserved for health care professionals.

Tips for wearing community masks

  • Always wash your hands before putting on or taking off your mask.
  • There should be no gaps between your face and the mask. When putting on or taking off your mask, only touch the straps and, if applicable, gently press down the metal bridge onto the back of your nose.
  • Do not touch your mask on the inside or outside.
  • When storing your mask, hang it by the straps to prevent it from touching surfaces.
  • Wash your mask at least once a day or when moist.
  • Do not pull your mask below your nose or chin and then up again.
  • Do not wear your mask when driving a car.

Sewing instructions

Due to high demand, it is currently difficult to acquire face masks in large quantities. As hygiene provisions require each person to own more than one mask, sewing your own community masks can be a good alternative.

There are several online sewing instructions that we can recommend:

A word on single-use gloves

In many places, you might encounter people wearing single-use gloves aimed at protecting against infection, e.g. in supermarkets, public transport or public spaces. But in everyday life, single-use gloves do more damage than good: they give you a false sense of safety and prevent you from washing your hands as regularly as recommended. Increased sweating can lead to skin damage, with the warm and humid conditions underneath the gloves providing an ideal environment for pathogens to reproduce.

This page was created in cooperation with Occupational Safety and Environmental Protection.


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