This article was written for Fethiye Times by Sue Fockner-Aşık

Before retiring to Turkey and establishing Arkadaslik Yachting, Sue was employed as Quality Manager by one of Canada’s largest health care organisations.  She has academic and professional qualifications in the fields of Chemistry, Health Care Administration, Patient Safety, Quality Management, Project Management and Statistical Analysis.  Nowadays, she spends her time enjoying the sights and sounds of the Turquoise Coast aboard luxury gulet Arkadaslik, savouring the citrusy smell of kolonya, and building a sizeable collection of face masks.

The Ultimate Guide to Face Masks in Turkey

Background

You’ve probably heard about it on the news or social media, but there’s a bit of a “bug” going around right now. For many of us, the virus (more formally known as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome 2, or SARS-CoV-2 for short1) doesn’t feel like the big deal the media is making it out to be. Symptoms of the illness (which is called COVID-19) caused by the virus can be fairly benign – a cough, sore throat, headache, fever, or a nasty, but short-lived bout of diarrhoea. Or they can be horrific.

In the Fethiye area, reported numbers of positive cases and deaths has been blessedly low. (Based on the few official reports we’ve seen 2,3, there have been a total of 24 positive cases in Fethiye, and three COVID-19-related deaths.) There’s the occasional rumour of a new case at the Devlet, usually mentioned on social media by the cousin of the neighbour of a hospital janitor who was smoking a cigarette outside when the ambulance arrived, but the people of Fethiye have mostly been spared.

So why is this virus such a big deal?  There are several reasons.  

First, SARS-CoV-2 makes some people sick.  Really sick.  Like “so sick they die” sick. And, while there’s a greater risk for the elderly and those with underlying health conditions, the virus can also debilitate (and kill) strong, healthy people. Fast. Therefore, it’s in your best interest to avoid catching it.

Second, treating patients with COVID-19 takes significant time, money, and resources.  Time, money, and resources which aren’t available for other health matters – like safely delivering high-risk babies, treating people suffering from heart attacks and strokes, saving victims of car accidents, or diagnosing cancer early enough that it can be cured.  Hopefully you won’t catch the virus.  But what if you need to access the health system for another reason and the resources aren’t available?  What will you do?  

Third, there’s growing evidence that COVID-19 has long term effects – even for people who initially show mild symptoms. You may only have a scratchy throat today, but it could lead to a stroke or limb amputation tomorrow4. Why put yourself at risk?

And fourth, we’re all capable of transmitting the virus without showing symptoms.  That’s probably the scariest part of this pandemic – being sick without knowing it, and inadvertently passing the virus on to others.  Do you really want to put your friends, family, and community at risk?

As tourism levels rebound in the next few weeks, Fethiye will be inundated with guests from around the world.  While we welcome their arrival to our little piece of paradise, new arrivals also increase our risk of exposure.  Life goes on, but what can we do to maximise our safety in the meantime?

Fortunately, there’s one really easy way to minimise transmission of SARS-CoV-2 – and it’s cheap, easy, and readily available to us all.  Face masks!

Face Masks – Facts and Fallacies

“But face masks don’t work!” you cry in righteous indignation.  “Face masks are dangerous because they limit oxygen intake!” you claim.  “Face masks are uncomfortable and give me a rash!” you whine.  And (perhaps most vehemently) “MANDATED FACE MASKS VIOLATE MY PERSONAL FREEDOM!” you shout while punching your fist in the air.

Bullsh*t!!!  

There’s tons of evidence disputing claim #1 and claim #2.  I’ll get to that in a moment…

Claim #3 is impossible to argue, but the discomfort is minor and a quick trip to the eczane will clear up your rash.  (And, if you experiment a bit, there are plenty of ways to make mask-wearing more bearable.  I’ll give you some suggestions later in the article.)

And as for Claim #4, grow up!  Recognise that, in this specific instance, a minor discomfort is required for the greater good of society.  (And, please, for the sake of our future, teach your children the same.)  No one is forcing you to donate a kidney, spend money you don’t have, wear an inappropriately-sized bikini on the beach, or share your most embarrassing photo on Instagram.  All you’re being asked to do is wear a fabric face mask to minimise the potential transmission of a deadly disease.  It’s called being socially responsible – and if you choose not to do it, you’re being the opposite – socially irresponsible!

Let’s be clear here.  Masks don’t stop you from catching the virus.  They stop you from inadvertently spreading the virus to someone else.  If you want to preserve the health of the people around you – please WEAR A MASK!

The Ultimate Guide to Face Masks in Turkey

Graphics source – Registered Dental Hygienists: How can we be safe now?

Claim #1 – Face Masks Don’t Work

We’ve all heard the argument. The openings in most masks are bigger than the size of a virus – so face masks can’t possibly reduce transmission of Coronavirus. The first part of the statement is actually true – the virus ranges from 50 to 200 nanometers in diameter5,and surgical quality masks only filter particles larger than about 300 nanometers across6.

But the virus doesn’t magically fly through the air like Tinkerbell.  It travels in minute globs of moisture that we expel from our noses and mouths in the normal course of living.  And these globs ARE bigger than the holes in face masks.  (That’s why a mask feels slightly damp when you take it off.  The spittle can’t escape.)

Fabric face coverings reduce transmission by capturing the virus-laden droplets of moisture that inadvertently escape when we talk (or “speak moistly” as the Canadian Prime Minister so eloquently put it7) and breathe and cough and sneeze8.

Fact:  Face masks DO work!

Claim #2 – Face Masks Limit Your Oxygen Intake

A molecule of oxygen is 0.3 nanometers in diameter. As stated above, the space between the fibers on a face mask is 300 nanometers across. That’s one thousand times bigger than an oxygen molecule! If you don’t believe the science9, believe the YouTube videos, and the Facebook memes.

Fact:  Face masks available to the general public DO NOT limit your oxygen intake.

Claim #3 – Face Masks are Uncomfortable

Agreed.  There’s no denying it – face marks are a pain in the… ear.  (I can’t be the only one who has discovered my face is alarmingly asymmetrical and my ears are set on crooked.)  Those of us who wear glasses face the additional challenge of “fogging up”.  And face masks feel (and smell) disgusting when it’s hot and you’re sweaty. All of these points are true.  Fortunately, all of these points can also be mitigated to some degree.

 Tips for making mask wearing more comfortable

  • Experiment with different styles and fabrics to find the most comfortable combination. 
  • Try switching styles occasionally to reduce chafing and soreness.  For example, if you normally wear a mask with elastic ear loops, change to one that ties behind your head to give your ears a break.
  • Make sure the fit is snug, not tight.
  • Reduce pressure on the back of your ears with an “ear saver”.  Simply fasten the loops of your mask behind your head with a paperclip or pony-tail elastic.  Or use a button headband.  
  • If you wear a hearing aid, choose a mask style which ties behind your head to avoid extra noise caused by the elastic rubbing on the backs of the ears.
  • If you wear glasses and experience “fogging”, clean your lenses with a drop of dish detergent.  A residue of detergent will remain after rinsing, which prevents condensation from forming.
  • Minimise gross “mask smell” by sucking on a mint or chewing mint gum while wearing your mask.
  • Remember that dark colours absorb heat.  A light coloured mask is the best option for keeping cool during the heat of summer.
  • Carry a spare.  That way, you can switch masks if one breaks (darned elastic!!!) or becomes soiled.

Claim #4 – Mandated Use of Face Masks Violate My Personal Freedom

Are you required to wear clothes when you ride public transport?  Or shoes when you go to your favourite restaurant?  Does your employer insist that you dress appropriately in the workplace?  Do those rules violate your personal freedom?  Or are they just part of basic civility, of being a good person in your community? The requirement for wearing a face mask is no different.  It’s got nothing to do with personal freedom – and everything to do with being a conscientious member of society.

Face Masks – They’re The Law in Turkey

Having acknowledged that masks are yucky, we must also recognise that Turkey is a country that elevates caring for the vulnerable to admirable levels.  It’s one of the things we love about Turkish people – their capacity for caring and compassion.   Accordingly, to keep everyone safe, the government has enacted a law requiring everyone aged two and older – INCLUDING FOREIGN VISITORS TO TURKEY – to wear a face mask in public, particularly when social distancing is not possible – even if it means a small level of discomfort to the masses.  

Furthermore, some provinces, including Muğla where we live, have implemented even stricter measures, requiring us to don masks whenever we are out and about.  

Turkey’s COVID-19 Mask Requirements10

Everywhere in Turkey

  • Places of business – including stores, restaurants, cafes, bars, barbershops, salons, theatres, etc.
  • Museums and ancient sites
  • Sports facilities and gyms
  • Beaches and parks
  • On public transportation
  • While driving with others – including personal vehicles and taxis

Provinces with Enhanced Requirements (including Muğla)

  • Any time you are away from your home, including all the times mentioned above.

Exceptions to the mask mandate are limited. You may remove your mask when seated at a restaurant or bar, or when swimming or lying on a sun-bed by a pool or the beach.  Otherwise, the requirement is that you WEAR A MASK in any of these places.

In this matter, there are no waivers.  There are no choices.  Whether you’re a citizen, a resident, or a visitor to Turkey, wear the mask, or face the fine. 

If It’s the Law, Why Isn’t Everyone Wearing A Mask?

After a short wander along Fethiye’s kordon, you’ll quickly realise that very few people are actually abiding by the law.  You’ll see the odd person wearing a mask correctly, but chances are, most will be mask-less.  (Or wearing them in creative ways that do nothing to reduce the spread of the virus!)  

I confess – I’ve been guilty of stepping out without a mask. (I posted a mask-less photo on Facebook last weekend and was soundly reprimanded by keyboard warriors from around the globe!) In truth, a minute or two of mask-less abandon, especially when out in fresh air, will probably do no harm. (Studies show that it may take up to 15 minutes of close contact to transmit enough of the virus to infect another person11.) But how long is too long? No one knows for sure12, so be safe – WEAR THE MASK!

Do We Really Need a Law?  

In an ideal world, we’d all feel a sense of social responsibility and don masks to protect the vulnerable in our communities.  In reality, most of us have not seen how horrible the disease can be.  So we forget our masks at home.  Or we wear them around our wrists.  Or under our chins.  Or on top of our heads like tiny little party hats.  But I suspect those who have actually seen people suffering from the ravages of COVID-19 NEVER forget to wear a mask.

So, yes, we need a law. Because, even if we aren’t motivated by social responsibility, or fear of facing similar distress as those who’ve battled the virus, most of us will remember to wear a mask to avoid the 900TL fine13.

Living with the Law

It’s easy to understand why there’s so much confusion about masks and their effectiveness in battling COVID-19.  Advice from scientists and medical professionals changes rapidly as new data concerning viral spread is collected and studied. 

  • Start of outbreak – masks don’t work against the spread of coronavirus
  • A few weeks later – only N95 masks are effective against the spread of coronavirus
  • Today – face coverings are essential against the spread of coronavirus

Fortunately, there’s now plenty of evidence to show that face coverings reduce transmission of COVID-19 in the general population. Communities mandating masks have significantly lower infection rates than those who do not14. But there’s no need to hoard respirators or surgical grade masks. Suitable face masks come in all shapes and forms – and you can buy them practically everywhere. There are single-use options, re-useable options, and patterns and colours galore. You can even make one yourself!

Other options that can be used in a pinch include bandanas, snoods , and paper napkins .  (While none of these are as good as a properly fitting fabric mask, they are better than going mask-less.)  Anything that blocks the transmission of moisture from your mouth and nose can help reduce the spread of this deadly virus.

Face Mask Tips

Like underwear, your face mask should be:

  • Washed or replaced when wet or dirty.
  • Properly fitted.  Too small will bind and be uncomfortable, and too large will sag and potentially expose parts you want to keep covered.
  • Replaced when the elastic wears out.
  • Worn right-side out. 
  • Yours, and yours alone.  Never share your face mask (or underwear) with others.

Conclusion

Dr. Koca, Turkey’s health minister, has repeatedly stated that face masks are part of “the new normal”, and will likely be required into 2021.  So face the reality, find a mask that doesn’t make your ears feel like they are going to fall off, and put it on.  And don’t be afraid to encourage others to do the same.  After all, you’re wearing a mask to keep them safe – they should be doing the same for you.  WEAR A MASK!

1 World Health Organization: Naming the coronavirus disease and the virus that causes it.  https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/technical-guidance/naming-the-coronavirus-disease-(covid-2019)-and-the-virus-that-causes-it

2 Gerçek Fethiye: President Karaca, ‘There are 21 positive cases in Fethiye’ – May 7, 2020.  https://gercekfethiye.com/baskan-karaca-fethiyede-21-pozitif-vaka-var/27219/?fbclid=IwAR3LSpqe1TDfZbnBwseh6MSZrYd8RM7baMeEeAGGecUY7DqOs8A8sSHSj48

3 Gerçek Fethiye: 3 cases after 45 days – June 17, 2020.  https://gercekfethiye.com/45-gun-sonra-3-vaka/28289/?fbclid=IwAR1GyggkBMcFnnbn6Yo7UuUU72NIjFIq3e3kEMucVbruuSybzW8jz9NIIM8

4 Advisory Board:  What we know so far about the long-term health effects of COVID-19. https://www.advisory.com/daily-briefing/2020/06/02/covid-health-effects

5 The Lancet: Epidemiological and clinical characteristics of 99 cases of 2019 novel coronavirus pneumonia in Wuhan, China: a descriptive study.  https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)30211-7/fulltext

6 Phys.org:  New Mechanisms discovered to separate air molecules.  https://phys.org/news/2018-06-mechanisms-air.html#:~:text=The%20molecular%20sizes%20of%20oxygen,and%200.363%20nanometers%20(nm).

7 Global News: Trudeau cringes at his ‘speaking moistly’ tip for coronavirus masks.  https://globalnews.ca/news/6792967/coronavirus-trudeau-speaking-moistly/

8 American Lung Association: The Truth about Masks and COVID-19. https://www.lung.org/blog/covid-masks

9 AFP Fact Check:  Using face masks does not cause hypoxia.  https://factcheck.afp.com/using-face-masks-does-not-cause-hypoxia

10 HES, travel and more: Deciphering the ‘new normal’ and Turkey’s COVID-19 regulations. https://www.dailysabah.com/turkey/expat-corner/hes-travel-and-more-deciphering-the-new-normal-and-turkeys-covid-19-regulations

11 Staying Safe isn’t Just About Hygiene and Distance. It’s About Time Too. https://edition.cnn.com/2020/05/18/us/coronavirus-time-risk/index.html 

12 The Conversation: What do and don’t know about COVID-19s infectious dose and viral load. https://theconversation.com/what-we-do-and-do-not-know-about-covid-19s-infectious-dose-and-viral-load-135991

13 Daily Sabah. Turkey implements uniform TL 900 fine for not wearing mask. https://www.dailysabah.com/turkey/turkey-implements-uniform-tl-900-fine-for-not-wearing-mask/news

14Face Masks Against COVID-19: And Evidence Review. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/340603522_Face_Masks_Against_COVID-19_An_Evidence_Review

Featured image: Captain Oktay Aşık models one of the collection of masks from Arkadaslik – made by Jenny Turrell.

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