The whole world is aware of the effects of the contagion due to the unanticipated COVID-19 virus. Apart from health sectors and certain financial institutions, none of the other industrial segments were spared from the wrath of the dreaded virus. Almost the entire world was forced into lockdown and even the most significant sectors and their mechanisms came to a grinding halt.
Eventually, after an unfortunate high-season spring time that completely washed out tourism in Nepal, and also the whole world, today Nepal can see a faint light of hope in welcoming foreign visitors by Fall beginning mid-September. The reason behind this optimism is that the government of Nepal has declared domestic and international flights to resume from 17 August 2020. The Department of Tourism under the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, Government of Nepal has also issued Operational Guideline with Health Protocol for Tourism Sector accordingly.
It was indeed quite disheartening that the Corona virus outbreak proved to be a major concern for all travel and adventure-loving enthusiasts. However, now with the Nepal government’s judicious decision to bring back things to normal in different phases brings a sigh of relief, especially to the owners of the hardest-hit travel industry. This sensible resolution from the government will hopefully bring back travel-hungry visitors who have been imprisoned in their own houses for months and allow them to tie up their boots for their favorite Everest Base Camp Trek.
One of the major precautions travelers will need to focus on as mentioned on the operational guidelines issued by the government authorities will be traveling responsibly. It means that a Nepal visitor should most definitely wear a mask, maintain social distancing and use sanitizers frequently, at the least. Before discussing about the benefits of wearing a mask or how it is effective in combating the spread of COVID-19 virus and the different types of masks, I would like to briefly bring out some important aspects regarding the usage of masks during the pandemic.
Few Things You Need To Know
- Most healthcare workers use professional face masks to protect themselves against deadly infections. Disposable masks however, are not expected to provide such protection.
- A person with a respiratory illness wearing a professional mask can definitely help protect others from becoming infected.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends wearing a mask in public places, but experts have divided opinions about the rule during outdoor activities like hiking, cycling or exercising.
- Visiting nearby places with a bunch of close friends or acquaintances shoulder to shoulder is definitely a foolish idea during this pandemic, even if wearing a mask.
- Studies have revealed that the biggest risk of being infected by the coronavirus is while you are indoors when you’re in a face-to-face contact with some other people, even for a short while. The studies have shown that the viral particles probably do not survive for long in the outdoors as they do inside a closed area.
- Social-distancing is key. If you are jogging or running in areas where people aren’t present, then a mask isn’t needed.
Why Should I Wear A Mask?
Wearing a mask is a good thing, especially at a time when the world has begun to open up while the erratic coronavirus is still here to stay for an unknown period of time. But, why should I wear a mask? It’s not just you; the whole world will need to rethink on wearing masks and it looks like face masks are here to stay. Okay, so some people are known to be asymptomatic meaning that they do not show any symptoms despite having contracted the coronavirus. Some of them are pre-symptomatic meaning that they are sick, but not really feeling it at all.
Take for granted that you have contracted the virus but you have been asymptomatic all the while. Now, when you wear a mask, it will protect other people by blocking respiratory droplets that you exhale (as these droplets are likely to carry viral particles). A good quality mask with a constricted weave, through which you aren’t able to see the sunlight, and that has several layers will certainly protect a person wearing it from inhaling any viral particles suspended in the air in the vicinity.
Within expectations, many epidemiologists from around the world have predicted that face masks will be necessary for at least quite some time, probably till the end of 2021, if not longer. The CDC and WHO have now recommended that everyone wear a mask while out from their homes and at public places. Latest researches have showed that wearing masks and social-distancing will help limit the rapid spread of the contagious virus. Although disposable surgical masks or simple cloth masks, buffs or bandanas are ideal for daily use, the more professional N95 masks or other medical-grade respirators should however, be strictly reserved for medical and health-care professionals.
What Are The Different Types of Masks?
Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) have extensively recommended wearing a mask when getting exposed to a public place, the general mass have several options to choose from the masks best-suitable for them depending on their location, profession, and general health condition. Although any type of mask does not eradicate coronavirus disease, it is meant to restrain tiny droplets coming out of a person’s mouth or nose when a he or she talks, coughs or sneezes. Further, it protects a person from becoming infected by the droplets coming out from the people around them. The following are the four general types of masks that can be considered as a protective shield during this pandemic:
- Cloth or Home-made masks
- Buff or Neck Gaiters and Bandanas
- Surgical Masks
- N95 Masks (Medical-grade Respirators)
Let us quickly take a look on what each type looks like:
1. Cloth or Home-made Masks
The Cloth or Home-made masks are ordinary masks made of common textiles. It can also be made out of the old clothes that you have in your closet and you no longer use. These clothes can be cut into rectangular pieces of the required size, folded and strapped with elastic rubber bands at the two extreme ends. Although home-made masks do not offer a higher degree of protection, but they will certainly help prevent the transmission of the coronavirus from asymptomatic people hovering around you. The CDC recommends using these types of masks during public exposure and also practicing social distancing and proper hygienic routines. It is practically useful to use these home-made or cloth masks when it is not possible to maintain a 6-foot distance from other people.
2. Buff or Neck Gaiters and Bandanas
A buff is also known as a neck gaiter or a neck warmer. In some parts of the world it is also known by the name of multifunctional headwear. Buffs are articles of clothing worn about the neck, on the face or head for warmness. They have been used in the past as gears for staying protected against dust, wind or direct sunlight. Neck gaiters are normally tubes of elastic fabric more often thick fleece, merino wool, synthetic wicking textile or knit material, that are slipped on and off over the head. Although buffs are also used as protective measures against viruses, they are the least effective in providing protection against any airborne droplets entering into a person’s mouth or nose.
Bandanas, on the other hand are kerchiefs, either triangular or square pieces of cloths, used by travelers to tie around their heads or necks either as protective measures or simply as fashion widgets. These bandanas can be used to cover the mouth and nose by folding it into a triangular shape and tying it behind the head. The ancient cowboys used to wear these bandanas to prevent dust and wind get into their nose or mouth. Although these are not recommended for protection against the virus, if you have nothing else, it is advised that you use it instead of not covering your face at all. Something is better than nothing!
3. Surgical Masks
Surgical masks are generally intended to be worn by health professionals while performing various healthcare procedures. These masks have been used extensively even by the general public during the COVID-19 pandemic across the world. Surgical masks are disposable, loose-fitting face masks that cover the nose, mouth and chin areas of a person. In medical fields, they are also known as procedure masks, isolation masks or medical masks. These masks are made of a nonwoven fabric that are cut into rectangular shapes and pleated or folded. They have elastic bands fixed on the two ends that expand to loop around the earlobes while covering the nose, mouth and chin areas.
Surgical masks that are 3-ply meaning 3-layered is considered at most healthcare institutions rather than the single or double plies. The three layers comprise the outer hydrophobic non-woven layer, the melt-blown middle layer, and the inner soft absorbent layer. These types of masks are typically used to:
- Block large particle droplets from reaching the mouth or nose areas.
- Reduce exposure of saliva and respiratory secretions onto other people.
- Prevent infections in patients and treating personnel by contracting bacteria from the liquid droplets and aerosols from the wearer’s nose or mouth.
- Prevent the transmission of potentially infectious respiratory secretions of the wearer to other people.
- Protect the wearer from sprays or splashes during health procedures.
- Reduce the chance of spreading airborne diseases to others.
- Prevent the inhaling of airborne dust particles created by air pollution.
5. N95 Masks or Respirators
N95 masks or respirators are more tight-fitting medical grade face masks that have been proved to provide superior protection from very small particles including viruses and bacteria and comparably the most effective masks from all other types. This respirator filters out 95% small dust particles and smaller respiratory droplets such as those containing SARS-CoV-2. In the present scenario, these masks are worn by most hospital staffs while interacting with COVID-19 patients. Unlike other types of masks, N95 masks make an airtight seal around the nose and mouth to prevent anything from entering onto the wearer’s respiratory tracts. Some types of N95 masks have an exhalation valve that will help with breathing and the buildup of heat and humidity. The only drawback of this type of mask is that one size does not fit all, so it must to actually fit-tested before using it, especially in case of children and people with facial hair.
N95 respirators are made from synthetic polymer fibers, specifically a nonwoven polypropylene fabric as the inner filtration layer. These N95 masks are not medically recommended for people with existing ailments like heart diseases, lung diseases, and psychological conditions such as claustrophobia. Since N95 masks are known to be the most efficient type amongst all other strains of masks, there has been a shortage of these respirators all around the world, especially during the time of the pandemic. Himalayan Glacier recommends all travelers to Nepal to be sensible and aware about this fact and consider using other alternatives, if possible.
How to wear a face mask properly?
Although it may sound childish, but there are indeed proper ways to wear your face mask. And surprisingly, one health study has shown that almost 78% people around the world wear their masks incorrectly. Here are some basic dos and don’ts issued by the CDC for the purpose of proper face-covering usage:
- Always make sure that you can breathe through your mask.
- Wear any type of mask when getting exposed in a public area.
- Make sure that your mask covers your nose and mouth properly.
- Always wash your hands before and after wearing a mask and also while removing it.
- Don’t use masks on children under 2 years.
- Try not to use surgical masks, N95 respirators or other PPE intended for healthcare professionals.
So, what is the proper way to wear a face mask then? First of all, any type of face mask should be worn in environments where it is quite difficult to maintain physical distancing. The mask you wear should cover your face right from the bridge of your nose to your jawline. You should not feel discomfort to talk with your mask on and must not be a reason of irritation to you so that you don’t need to touch or pull your mask out of place. Masks are only effective if you wear them properly. Here are a few points professionally recommended for putting on and taking off a mask:
- Wash your hands clean and grab your mask, preferably a cloth or surgical mask, if you are not a healthcare worker.
- Put on your mask to place it over your mouth and nose holding it by the elastic ear loops
- Make sure that the mask fits snugly on the sides of your face without any open flaps, but not so tight that it becomes difficult for you to breathe.
- Also, make sure that the mask covers your nose, mouth and chin properly. If you are using a pleated mask, pull it up so that it covers your nose and tug it down so that it covers your mouth and goes up to your chin.
- When your mask is on, don’t touch it unless you need to open it for some reasons. If you touch it accidentally, then you need to wash or sanitize your hands.
- While taking off your mask, hold by the elastic ear loops and gently remove it or untie it, depending on the type of the mask, without touching the front portion of the mask.
- Make sure to hold the mask away from your face as you remove it.
- Place your mask in a clean, re-sealable plastic bag or zip-lock pouch. While doing so, make sure that you hold the mask by the ear loops. Store the bag or pouch in a clean and cool place for future use.
- Wash or sanitize your hands in the end.
Is it safe to wear a mask while hiking or trekking in Nepal?
Outdoor spaces in Nepal have already begun to reopen gradually while the coronavirus pandemic is taking its own course. This brings up a significant question for trekkers who can’t wait any longer to get back into the wilds: Do you need to wear a mask while trekking? We recommend trekkers carry face masks like cloth masks or bandanas with them to wear them just in case they have to come in close contact with other hikers on the trails or the teahouses. If you look at our things to pack for Everest Base Camp Trek, it can be observed that face coverings (like bandanas) and hand sanitizers are included therein. So, whether necessary or not, these items, in the present scenario, are just smart precautionary things to carry along while you are outdoors for considerable a long time.
Hiking and trekking in Nepal means that it takes you away from the street crowds to a much peaceful setting, but you will meet a lot of people trekking in the same region, some may be ahead and some behind you. It may certainly reduce the risk of getting the virus into you, but as some researchers have pointed out, viruses are hard-pressed to survive for a long time at high altitude places. Here we need to remember that reduction of risk or low risk does not necessarily mean no risk at all!
What happens when you are hiking or trekking with your mask on? It surely doesn’t feel comfortable to walk several hours on uneven terrains with a mask on. You will have a barrier to getting in air into your respiratory tracts. Along with your perspiration, the mask tends to get wet and probably makes it even more difficult for you.
Now, is it really safe to wear a mask while hiking or trekking? According to CNET, yes it is. A physical therapist and a certified strength and conditioning specialist named Grayson Wickham flashed to the media outlet saying that most people can perform every and all exercises while wearing a mask. Trekking is also a form of exercise, so it implies that there are no potential hazards wearing a mask while you are enjoying your trek.
For people with pre-existing health conditions of difficulty in breathing like asthma or bronchitis and cardio-vascular problems like COPD must, however, consult with their doctor about what is good or bad for their health issues before planning any hiking or trekking journeys.
After the government announced the resuming of domestic and international flights from 17 August 2020, we have been highly excited to welcoming all nature lovers and adventurers in Nepal. “The mountains are calling and I must go” might be the kind of feelings of hundreds of travelers like you and me. And this time, amid the threats of coronavirus, Himalayan Glacier has a set of protocols, some sort of a pandemic mantra, keeping in mind the safety and well-being of its prestigious patrons. These are some of the procedures and practices that we will be following:
- Guest pick-up from the international airport by clean, healthy and outspoken representative on a fully sanitized vehicle.
- We will provide hand sanitizers and N95 masks (for use in Kathmandu), and quality cloth or surgical face masks (for use during trekking)
- Drop to the hotel room that is fully sanitized and free from any potential hazards of the coronavirus.
- Welcome and farewell dinners at restaurants that have operated strictly in adherence to the government’s norms regarding hygiene and sanitation.
- Night stays at the best teahouses with fully sanitized rooms and hygienic environment.
- Take other necessary precautionary measures during your entire journey with Himalayan Glacier.