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Coronavirus and face masks

We’ve received lots of questions about whether people with cystic fibrosis (CF) and their families should be wearing masks if and when they leave the house. We have prepared the following information to help you make a choice about whether to use face masks. At the moment, the UK CF Medical Association (CMFA) has advised that people with CF should continue to follow shielding guidance.

Last updated: 2 July 2020

There has been a lot of information in the media about use of face masks and governments have also talked about their role in easing restrictions as the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic changes. There is little scientific evidence to support the use of face masks to limit the spread of COVID-19. However, with more people who’ve been shielding now going out for walks, the CFMA agree there is no harm in wearing a mask if it makes the individual feel more comfortable.

What have different UK governments said about wearing face masks?

All UK governments broadly agree in asking people to consider wearing face coverings in situations where it’s difficult to maintain social distancing, but they all also talk about the importance of maintaining good hygiene (hand washing and not touching your face) and are clear that social distancing is still very important.

In the quotes below, you will notice that the term ‘face coverings’ is used instead of ‘face masks’. This means that in the situations talked about, what is being suggested is use of any cloth covering – simple home-made cloth masks, or even scarves or a piece of fabric – to cover the mouth and nose. Use of surgical masks and medical masks is only being recommend by governments for those working with people with COVID-19, as part of full PPE (Personal Protective Equipment).

England

The guidance states: "Face coverings can help us protect each other and reduce the spread of the disease if you are in an enclosed space where social distancing isn’t possible and where you will come into contact with people you do not normally meet. This is most relevant for short periods indoors in crowded areas, for example on public transport or in some shops."

The Government recently announced that face coverings will be mandatory on all forms of public transport in England from 15 June. Those attending hospitals in England as visitors or outpatients will also be required to wear face coverings from 15 June following new guidance

Scotland

The Scottish Government released new guidance on 18 June, confirming that face coverings will be mandatory on public transport from 22 June. They have said that “by wearing a face covering everyone is engaged in a collective responsibility to reduce the risk of transmission.”

Wales

The Welsh Government’s guidance states: "Wearing a face covering won’t protect you from others – it will protect others from you and then only if you don’t potentially transfer the virus in other ways. You will also need to maintain social distancing, keep washing your hands regularly in hot water and with soap and follow the other safety guidelines as well."

Northern Ireland

The guidance from Northern Ireland states: "It is recommended that you should think about using face coverings in particular circumstances – short periods in enclosed spaces where social distancing is not possible. In practice, these circumstances will largely mean on public transport and in shops."

What are the different kinds of face masks?

You will have heard that some masks could offer more protection than others. Types of masks include:

  • Surgical masks – these are disposable masks that cover your nose and mouth, but do not have a seal.
  • Medical masks – these masks are made to seal around your nose and mouth and must meet specific quality standards (FFP2/FFP3 in Europe/N95 in the US).
  • Homemade/cloth masks – simple fabric masks to cover your nose and mouth. These can be made at home from breathable fabrics. 

There is information on types of masks, how effective they might be, and the evidence behind them here.  

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control has produced useful information about types of face masks.  

Why is the Government asking people to wear face coverings when they go shopping or to busy places, or travel on public transport (in England)?

This advice is being given to reduce the spread of COVID-19 to others – you can still spread the virus if you don’t have any symptoms. Following guidelines on social distancing and good hygiene is also still really important. 

Do face coverings stop you catching COVID-19?

Cloth and surgical masks have not been shown to stop people from catching COVID-19 but may help to protect others if the person wearing the face covering has COVID-19.

Evidence suggests that N95 masks and FFP2 or FFP3 masks do offer some protection, but only when fitted correctly, used properly and used with additional protective equipment. 

Does wearing glasses/sunglasses as well as a mask reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19?

Frontline medical workers treating those with COVID-19 are routinely wearing goggles but these are carefully fitted and are part of full PPE. 

Evidence suggests that COVID-19 can enter the body through the eyes but a recent review of research suggested that wearing normal spectacle glasses doesn’t offer any additional protection against catching the virus.

Why is the Government not recommending that those considered extremely clinically vulnerable wear face coverings? 

People with CF are in the group thought to be ‘extremely clinically vulnerable’ to COVID-19 and have therefore been advised to follow shielding guidance. This means that they have been advised not to leave the house, and because of this, no further Government advice has been issued about face coverings specifically for people in this ‘extremely clinically vulnerable’ group.

The UK CF Medical Association has confirmed the importance of people with CF continuing to follow the advice on shielding. 

Will I need to wear a face covering when I stop shielding?

Shielding guidance across the UK has recently been updated, and governments in England and Northern Ireland have confirmed shielding will be paused from 1 August, with people who have been shielding advised to follow strict social distancing. The UK CFMA have released an updated statement following these changes and they agree that there is no harm in wearing a mask if it makes the individual feel more comfortable. If you need personalised advice about whether you or your child should use a face covering, please do discuss with your CF team.

Should people who live with someone with CF be wearing a face covering when they go out in busier places, to protect the person with CF?

This is a personal choice, but across the UK governments have suggested wearing a face covering when in busy places where it is difficult to maintain social distancing, to protect others. 

Simple cloth face coverings will not protect you from catching COVID-19 and medical masks (FFP2 and FFP3) are only likely to offer some protection if properly fitted. Even if you decide to wear a mask, it’s really important to try to follow guidance on social distancing and good hygiene.

Have people with lung conditions been advised not to use face coverings?

Wearing a face covering may not be easy for people with lung conditions – some people say it can feel harder to breathe while wearing one. If you do want to wear a face covering and have any concerns or find that doing so affects your breathing, do discuss this with your CF team so that they can give advice specific to your lung health. If you are specifically thinking about purchasing a medical mask, please speak to your CF team to check they feel this is right for you, before making a purchase. It’s particularly important to speak to your team if you are thinking of using a mask when exercising, in case there are any additional risks when breathing harder due to strenuous exercise.

It’s important to remember that face coverings should be kept clean and hygienic – most simple cloth face coverings can go in the washing machine.

Where can I buy face coverings?

Many shops and online sellers are selling face coverings, and some are charging high prices given the current high demand. It’s important to remember that the Government has only suggested the use of simple cloth face coverings, which can be made at home from breathable fabrics (eg cotton) and washed in the washing machine after use.

The Government has provided instructions on how to make your own cloth face covering

There are also lots of patterns and tutorials online, which are designed to help people make their own face coverings at home.

Should I reuse a mask or face covering?

A mask cannot be reused and should be disposed of after a single use. A face covering can be reused but we would recommend washing it after a single use. 

If you experience any symptoms of COVID-19, please contact your CF team and follow Government advice on self-isolating for you and your household. 

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