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COVID-19 and the Use of Face Masks

Published on Apr 14, 2020 and last reviewed on Apr 30, 2021   -  8 min read

Abstract

So many contradicting information available about the use of masks to prevent COIVD-19 has left most people confused. Read the article to know about these masks in detail.

Contents
COVID-19 and the Use of Face Masks

A new strain of the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) has made the entire world come to a standstill and has resulted in the death of thousands of people worldwide. The infection caused by this virus (COVID-19) has been reported to result in mild respiratory illness to breathing difficulty, pneumonia, and respiratory failure. With scientists and doctors working against time to find a cure for this deadly virus, there are a lot of misconceptions about the possible ways to prevent this infection doing the rounds.

There are a lot of talks about the benefits of face masks in preventing this infection, which has resulted in people around the world rushing to the pharmacies to get their hands on any type of mask that is available. This has resulted in a shortage of masks and other protective equipment for the healthcare industry. But are you sure that these masks are even protecting you against this virus? And do all types of masks provide equal protection? Read this article and decide for yourself.

Is It Necessary to Wear a Mask If You Do Not Have Symptoms?

Up until recently, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) suggested that face masks should be only worn by:

  1. Healthcare professionals.

  2. People who are sneezing or coughing.

  3. People who are caring for a sick person.

But recently, the CDC and many government officials around the world have asked the general public to wear a non-surgical mask or some kind of cloth that covers their mouth and nose. It can be a homemade mask or a bandana or your handkerchief.

Why Is CDC Now Asking People to Wear Homemade Face Covers?

There have been reports of COVID-19 spreading from people who do not show any symptoms also. It is now understood that 25 % of infected people might not show any symptoms. It was also found that infected people can transmit the infection a couple of days before they develop symptoms.

This pre-symptomatic transmission has made the CDC to ask the general public to cover their nose and mouth when in public. This is why it has become mandatory to use a face cover when you step out of the house in some countries. So let us first understand the different types of masks out there.

What Are the Types of Face Masks Used for COVID-19?

The general types of mask that are being used against COVID-19 are:

  1. N95 respirator.

  2. Surgical mask.

  3. Cloth or homemade mask.

Cloth or Homemade Masks:

CDC recommends wearing cloth face masks like homemade masks while going to public places where maintaining a distance of 6 feet from others is not possible. The recommendation includes:cloth or home made masks

Fabric to Use:

Make sure you use a clean fabric to make a mask and always wash and dry it under the sun before stitching it. Doctors recommend using a fabric which, when held up against a bright light, does not pass a lot of light through it. Cotton fabric from pillowcase or 100 % cotton shirt can be used.

Some sources say that a vacuum cleaner bag can be used. But it is highly difficult to breathe through a vacuum cleaner bag material, and so it is not recommended. And avoid piling up layers of fabric, as it can again make breathing difficult. You should be able to breathe properly without feeling suffocated while wearing a face cover.

How Should They Be?

The homemade mask should:

  1. Snugly fit against the sides of your face.

  2. Be comfortable.

  3. Be properly secured with ties or elastics.

  4. Include 2 to 3 layers of fabric.

  5. Not restrict breathing.

  6. Be able to wash and dry.

  7. Maintain its shape and structure when washed and dried.

Benefits:

Risks:

Surgical Masks:

Surgical Masks

Otherwise called procedure or medical masks. These are disposable or single-use masks that loosely cover the nose, mouth, and chin. They are made from paper or non-woven fabric, and are rectangular in shape and have a metal strip at the top, which can be shaped to fit the nose tightly. Elastic bands or ties are used to hold these masks in place.

Benefits:

If used properly, they are used to:

Risks:

N95 Respirators:

N95

N95 respirator, otherwise called N95 mask, is a type of mask that filters 95 % of airborne particles, including bacteria and viruses. They are made from a fine mesh of fibers called non-woven polypropylene fabric. This is a tight-fitting face mask. It is circular or oval shaped and should form a tight seal around the nose and mouth. Elastic bands are used to hold this mask in place.

Benefits:

Risks:

Do Masks Really Protect Against the New Coronavirus?

The new coronavirus spreads through respiratory droplets that are produced when a person coughs or sneezes. Anyone standing too close to an infected person when he coughs or sneezes can breathe in the virus through these droplets. These droplets can also contaminate objects or surfaces. Anyone who touches such surfaces or objects and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth can also get infected.

  1. Homemade masks provide a small degree of protection and may stop the spread of the new coronavirus from an asymptomatic person.

  2. Surgical masks do not protect against COVID-19, as it does not effectively filter out smaller respiratory droplets, and unfiltered air can also leak inside from the side of the mask. It can be worn by a COVID-positive patient to prevent the spread to others.

  3. N95 respirators do protect against smaller respiratory droplets that might contain the new coronavirus. But, CDC does not recommend the general public from wearing it. This is because it has to be custom-fitted before it can be effective, it cannot be comfortable to wear for prolonged periods, and as the supply of N95 respirators is limited, it is crucial for healthcare professionals to have ready access to them.

How Should Surgical and Homemade Masks Be Used?

  1. Firstly, clean your hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

  2. Check if your mask does not have perforations.

  3. If you are using a surgical mask, adapt the top metal strip to the bridge of your nose by keeping the white-colored side facing you.

  4. If it is a homemade mask, hold the mask near your nose.

  5. Then loop the elastic bands around your ears or tie the strands behind your head.

  6. After the mask is secured, pull the bottom end to properly cover your mouth and chin.

  7. If you want to adjust your mask while wearing, make sure you wash your hands first.

  8. Do not touch the front of the mask while taking it off. Untie or unloop the bands and throw the surgical mask in a closed bin and wash your hands.

  9. Homemade masks should be washed in lukewarm water and dried under the sun.

The WHO (World Health Organization) still advises against the general public using masks unless they are sick or taking care of someone sick. This is because they say masks do not work, they can be potentially harmful, and masks should be preserved for healthcare professionals.

Can Improper Usage of Masks Cause More Damage?

Yes, it can. The argument being:

  1. Improper disposal and use of masks can result in the spread of infection more rapidly.

  2. It might increase the person’s instinct to touch his face to adjust the mask.

  3. It may develop a false sense of security, making people oversee hand washing and social distancing.

  4. Disposable masks are washed dried and then resold in some places.

Wearing a mask is a primary intervention to control the spread of COVID-19. But currently, in this second wave of COVID-19, health experts recommend double masking.

What Is Double Masking?

When you wear a mask on top of another mask, it is called double masking. Health experts recommend wearing double masks as a strategy to counter the elevated transmission of COVID-19.

What are the Benefits of Double Masking?

One benefit is that you get a better fit. When you wear an improperly fitting mask, there are chances of infectious droplets escaping through the sides of the mask. This is prevented in the case of double masking.

The other benefit is that double masking helps to increase its filtration power. The material in the masks filters the respiratory droplets containing the virus before you get to inhale them. The layers of the mask increase the filtration power. Basically, health experts recommend wearing masks with at least two or three layers. Hence, when you wear an additional mask, it offers better filtration.

Which Combination of Masks Offers Better Protection?

Some combination of masks can make it hard for you to breathe. Such a combination of masks should be avoided.

Avoid wearing two surgical masks.

Avoid wearing any other type of mask with N95. N95 masks do not require an additional mask along with it.

Health experts recommend wearing a surgical mask with a cloth mask over it.

Ensure that you are able to breathe wearing double masks. You can try it at home, and if you are fine with double masking, then you can go for it. It offers better protection.

Conclusion:

So the bottom line is, you can wear a double mask provided you follow the guidelines, you wear it properly, clean it regularly, wash your hands, do not touch your face, and follow social distancing. Wearing a mask does not make you completely safe from COVID-19, but it does reduce the risk to some extent. Unless every one of us is vaccinated, it is necessary for each one of us to wear a mask. So do wear masks and get vaccinated to fight this deadly virus.

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Last reviewed at:
30 Apr 2021  -  8 min read

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