Whether it is a consumer shopping at the grocery store, a patient coming in for a blood draw, or a healthcare professional working in the clinic, everyone is feeling mask fatigue. The only people who are really accustomed to wearing masks on a daily basis are those medical professionals working inside operating rooms. Even those blue surgical masks are a bit more comfortable than strapping on all the personal protective equipment needed today to gain some control over spreading the COVID-19 virus.
The fact is, however, we need to realize we are in this for the long haul. The need for masks is not going away anytime soon. We need to make mask wearing part of our new normal until further notice, and that notice is not likely to come until at least a year from now. (I know that sounds like a long time, but we have already been dealing with this virus for more than 6 months.)
When someone is weary of wearing a mask, they start “adjusting it” to try to make it more comfortable. The problem is that often they stop covering their nose and have only their mouth covered. Think of this the way you would think about birth control. Being only partially protected won’t prevent pregnancy—and it won’t stop the spread of the virus.
Oncology navigators need to serve as role models, and as examples of doing it right. Cover your nose (at least halfway up the bridge) and mouth (completely), making sure the sides of the mask fit snugly against the cheeks of the face, with the bottom of the mask fitting securely underneath the chin.
There are many decorative and stylish, and even humorous, masks now available. Such masks may make people more willing to wear them, but we need to remind our patients that their mask must meet certain criteria. Ideally, it is 3 layers thick with no openings on the side that would allow air to exit or enter, and it is the right size to fit properly on the adult or child wearing it. If the elastic that goes around the back of the ears is causing the ears to bend forward, then it is not the right size and longer elastic strips are needed.
We know that it is too dangerous in today’s world to walk over to a stranger and tell them to adjust their mask so it fits properly. But we can serve as a role model for others. It’s better to be here and tired of wearing masks than to, well, not be here.