When the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak first came to the surface, not much was known about the novel coronavirus or its associated disease. But as the pandemic spread through the world, it also allowed healthcare experts to learn more information regarding it.
From social distancing to hand washing, it didn’t take long for healthcare professionals to come up with safety precautions against COVID-19. However, one aspect that took some time to gather relevant data was the suggestion to wear a face mask.
Initially, insufficient information was available to suggest that face masks could lower the spread of COVID-19. But as frontline staff continued to treat patients and healthcare experts studied the information at hand, a few observations came to light. For one, it became clear that certain types of face masks could protect the wearer from contracting the novel coronavirus, while other types of protective face coverings could lower the chances of spreading the virus to other people.
Now, credible health experts agree that when followed properly, the practice of wearing face masks can help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
What is the Science Behind Wearing Face Masks?
The novel coronavirus spreads through respiratory droplets that are discharged when an infected person talks, breathes, coughs, or sneezes. As a result, anyone who is near the infected individual runs the risk of contracting the virus.
To make matters more worrisome, studies have also found that over 40 percent of COVID-19 cases can transmit the virus before showing any symptoms. Whereas, more than 20 percent of cases can remain asymptomatic but still spread the disease to others.
That is why it’s advised that everyone should maintain a distance of at least 6 feet from others in public settings; wash hands frequently, and use a hand sanitizer when soap and water are not available.
But along with physical distancing and hand hygiene, it is suggested that you wear a face mask to cover your mouth and nose whenever you are out of your home. Depending upon the mask that you are wearing, this practice could protect you, your loved ones, and the people around you.
Different Types of Masks Produce Different Results
When it comes to protection against COVID-19, face masks are distributed into three different categories.
- N95 Respirators
- Surgical Masks
- Cloth Masks
Each of these masks is produced for a different purpose, but they can all be used to lower the spread of the novel coronavirus. With that being said, not all of these masks are intended to be utilized in general settings. This is why it’s important that you learn about their functions before purchasing them for regular use.
N95 respirators are specially manufactured face masks that are worn by professionals. When worn properly, they allow the wearer to inhale filtered air that blocks up to 95 per cent of external particles. This also includes ultra-fine aerosols that are less than 5 micrometers in diameter. However, when the wearer exhales, the air discharged from the mask is unfiltered of their own respiratory droplets.
This special face mask is typically not reusable. It is also professionally fitted over the mouth and nose, and can only be worn for short periods of time. But it still lowers the chances of the wearer contracting COVID-19 by a whopping 96%.
Since healthcare experts are surrounded by already infected patients or other professionals who are wearing the same respirators, they steer clear of the risk of infecting anyone else in turn. This makes the N95 respirators ideal for use in healthcare settings, where more resources are available for consistently buying new masks – without putting anyone else at risk.
But if the N95 respirator is worn by the general public, it can only save the wearer and still leave others exposed to the novel coronavirus. For instance, if the individual wearing the mask has an asymptomatic or mild infection of COVID-19, they could spread it to others inadvertently. This is why it’s recommended by organizations such as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) that this mask is only used by healthcare professionals.
Surgical masks are also typically associated with healthcare professionals. They are often used in clinical settings to protect the wearer against large droplets, splashes, or splatter. Properly manufactured surgical masks adhere to safety regulations to properly protect the wearer against external substances.
Surgical masks are typically made to be a loose fit. They can also be worn like a regular face mask without professional fitting. But they do cover the mouth and nose of the wearer effectively. They are also manufactured using a synthetic material that is usually arranged to create three or more layers.
When worn to lower the spread of COVID-19, a surgical mask or a comparable alternative that’s made from 12-16 layers can offer approximately 67% protection to the wearer. This estimate can go lower in case the mask is too loose around the face or does not cover the nose and mouth.
With that being said, these surgical masks can also be useful in protecting those who are around the wearer. Since these masks are made out of synthetic material with different layers, it can decrease the discharge of respiratory droplets in the air. As a result, it can help curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.
But it’s important to remember that these masks are not reusable after being worn for extended periods of time. If you want a more sustainable option, cloth masks are the way to go.
Cloth masks are made out of cotton or other comfortable material. They typically consist of multiple layers to bring more comfort to the wearer and lower the discharge of respiratory droplets in the surrounding air.
According to the CDC, a cloth face mask is the recommended face covering for the general public. Due to its material and its ability to absorb respiratory particles, the mask can help prevent asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic COVID-19 cases from spreading the virus to others.
Cloth masks are made to be a snug fit that effectively covers your nose and mouth. It is also designed in a way that covers your cheeks and jaw in order to lower the chances of respiratory droplets escaping into the air. They are also reusable and washable using household cleaners and detergents.
Since cloth masks are comfortable and made out of breathable material, they are right in line with other masks that don’t negatively affect the wearer’s breathing mechanism. You can also add more layers to a typical cloth mask to make it more effective and bring it to the level of efficacy of a surgical mask.
Practicing the habit to wear a cloth mask in public settings and making sure not to pull it off to rest under your nose or chin can help in preventing the spread of COVID-19.
We Should All Do Part in Curbing the Spread of COVID-19
There are various advisories available by credible health experts on how to properly wear different types of masks. By looking at the right information and combining it with other measures such as social distancing and hand hygiene, we can all do our part in decreasing the spread of this novel coronavirus and help keep our communities safe from the pandemic.