Are face masks helping to prevent the COVID-19 coronavirus from spreading? Yes, they are, if they are combined with other measures of prevention, like frequent washing of hands and social distancing, which then helps in slowing the virus from spreading.
So, what is the reason why there were no recommendations made for using face masks as soon as the pandemic started? At the onset of the pandemic, experts were not aware of the extent to which people with COVID-19 could spread the virus before their symptoms appeared. It was also not known that people could have COVID-19 and yet show no symptoms. Both of these groups, unknowingly, helped to spread the virus to others.
There are public health groups argue that it is health care providers for whom the masks should be reserved, and quote the critical shortage of N95 and surgical masks. This concern was acknowledged by the CDC as then it recommended that the public should use cloth masks, and not the surgical masks and N95 masks that health care providers needed to use. If you are looking for a reliable place to purchase a mask, see Get Masked Up for more details.
How do these different types of masks work?
These medical masks, the surgical masks, are loose-fitting masks that are disposable and protect the nose and mouth of its wearer from coming in contact with sprays, splashes and droplets that are germ-carrying. This surgical mask also acts to filter out air that may contain large particles. These masks also protect others from exposure to any respiratory and saliva secretions of the wearer of the mask.
These masks are in truth a respirator that offers better protection than what a surgical mask will, as it is able to filter out both the small and large particles that the wearer may inhale. The name of the mask indicates its design to block 95% of small particles. Some of these N95 maks are even equipped with a valve that makes breathing through it, easier. When a wearer uses this type of mask, he or she exhales unfiltered air.
Training is needed to be provided to health care workers who also need to pass a fit test that confirms that the N95 respirator has a proper seal before it is used in their place of work. N95 masks are disposable, just as the surgical masks are. Research is being carried out on ways to disinfect the masks to permit their reuse.
Some of these N95 masks have one-way valves that make breathing in them easier, and some cloth masks also have this facility. But as the air that this valve releases when its wearer breathes out, is unfiltered, it does not prevent its wearer from spreading the virus. This is the reason why the use of this mask is banned in some places.
Surgical masks and N95 masks are in short supply and need to be reserved for health care providers. Cloth masks are more easily available and can even be washed and reused.
If everyone wears cloth masks as specified by the authorities, it can go a long way in reducing the spread of coronavirus from people who do not realize they are affected by people with COVID-19. Countries that required the wearing of face masks, isolation, testing and practised social distancing as soon as the pandemic was detected have been successful in slowing down the spread of the virus.
Cloth masks are simple to make and hence are also cheap. You can easily find instructions online for making them, and the materials used are common, with sheets of cotton that are tightly woven being the most used. CDC sites even suggest masks that do not require any stitching and sewing, like those that use T-shorts and bandannas. These cloth masks must have multiple layers of fabric.
Wearing a Face Mask
Wear these masks in public settings where it is difficult to adopt social distancing measures, as in grocery stores, and in those areas where there is a possibility of community-based transmission.
How to put on a mask or take it off?
Place the mask on your face so that your mouth and nose are covered.
The mask should not be touched when it is worn.
If you need to touch your mask, use a sanitizer or wash your hands after you have done so.
When you want to remove the mask, untie it or take it off the ear loops and do not touch the front of the mask or your face when doing so.
Once you have removed the mask, your hands must be washed.
The masks must be regularly washed with soap and water.
Here are a few other precautions for using face masks:
People having breathing problems must not use them, nor must they be worn by people who are unconscious or those who need help in removing the mask.
Children under two years must not use a mask.
Masks are not a substitute for social distancing.