The art of coughing and sneezing in the age of Covid-19


When wearing face mask, do cough or sneeze into your elbow, but avoid touching your mask as much as possible. — AFP

Since the beginning of the global Covid-19 pandemic, coughing and sneezing in public can feel similar to taking your kid to the hairdressers when they’ve got nits (known in Bahasa Malaysia as kutu).

You’re THAT person. People look, they glare, they judge, making you feel like some kind of pariah.

Achoo! At best, that sneeze will have done nothing more than startle the person sitting opposite you.

But at worst, tiny droplets will have been carried through the air, potentially landing on your neighbour and contributing to the spread of the coronavirus.

Learning how to respond to this reflex action – which, like a cough, could be caused by the common cold, an allergy or an irritation – could play a role in limiting the spread of the virus.

Here’s how to go about coughing and sneezing in the age of Covid-19:

> Go for your elbow

The advice endlessly given to children to remind them of good hygiene practices is usually the best advice for adults too, even if we tend to forget that.

“Wash your hands” and “sneeze or cough into your elbow” are good habits to get into, no matter what your age.

But is it possible to sneeze or cough into your elbow when wearing a face mask?

Apparently so, as scientists consider this to be the best way of preventing respiratory droplets from spreading through the air.

However, make sure you avoid bringing your elbow into contact with your mask as much as possible, and try not to touch other people with this part of your body.

That may go without saying, especially in the age of physical distancing, but droplets can nevertheless pass through a mask and deposit on your elbow or clothing, so it’s important to bear that in mind!

> Carry tissues and a spare face mask

Another option is to sneeze or cough into a disposable tissue.

It can be tricky to act fast enough when it’s an uncontrollable reflex, but if you have the time, don’t hesitate to get out a tissue to help stop the spread of respiratory droplets.

That’s what Dr Maria Sundaram, a postdoctoral researcher and epidemiologist at ICES Ontario in Canada, advised Eliza Goren of the Washington Post.

Indeed, the scientist recommends covering your mouth and nose with the tissue to prevent particles from escaping, then throwing away the tissue immediately after use and cleaning your hands with soap and water or with hand sanitiser.

Carrying a spare mask at all times will allow you to stay comfortable by changing it as and when you like if you’re coughing or sneezing a lot, as a mask can become uncomfortable or dirty.

In any case, a spare mask is a must-have for mishaps like snap-ped elastic or wet weather, which render a mask unusable in just a few minutes.

To prevent droplets from becoming airborne and spreading indoors, e.g. in the office, at home or in other closed spaces, the best solution is to go outside to cough or sneeze.

Physical distancing should still be maintained, however, and you should keep your mask on as much as possible.

Still, that can be difficult when a sneeze takes you by surprise when you’re busy at work or riding the subway. – AFP Relaxnews

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