Why should everyone wear face masks?

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The New Normal

Face masks are something we are all quite familiar with now – whether it’s a surgical mask, a cotton face mask, a hastily wrapped scarf, or a t-shirt pulled up over the mouth. People out on the streets can be spotted from afar adorned with some kind of protective face gear. This is just how things are during this pandemic, when only a few weeks earlier, someone with a mask might have stuck out like a sore thumb in a crowd.

Many countries have made face masks mandatory in the hopes of containing the spread, but only a few get their hands on good quality masks that offer some protection. Others make do with whatever they can get. Studies have shown that countries that wore masks have successfully flattened the curve. Now, how is that? This has everything to do with how coronavirus actually spreads. 

About the Coronavirus

By now we know that Sars-CoV-2 is the virus that causes the disease. It works quickly once a person is infected and takes over their cells to replicate itself. It bursts out into the bodily fluids in their lungs, mouth, and nose. This is why when an infected person coughs, the tiny droplets – known as aerosols – containing the virus get sprayed into the air.

These droplets can either settle on various surfaces or in case of extremely tiny particles, remain suspended in the air, ready to infect other people. According to various studies, these aerosols containing the virus can stay in the air for hours and infect people if inhaled.

Coronavirus is more likely to spread in enclosed areas like public transport, cinemas, restaurants, shops, public bathrooms, airlines, etc. Thus, people in the vicinity of the person affected are at risk.

A dangerous aspect of coronavirus is that people who are not showing any symptoms of the disease can be carriers of it. They can spread the virus without any knowledge of doing so. In some cases, the incubation period of symptoms of the virus is up to 14 days during which people are unknowingly contagious. This is why suppressing the transmission of this disease is so difficult, and the reason why face masks are important even if you are not showing any signs of being ill. 

Why Wear Face Masks?

Face masks help reduce the transmission of aerosols into the air, which reduces the risk of spreading the virus. A standard surgical face mask is a popular option because it reduces the amount of virus-containing droplets that escape when an infected person coughs or exhales. The other options are the specialized face masks like the N95. They are said to filter out up to 95% harmful particles in the air. The problem is the lack of their availability, their price, and the fact that they are supposed to be discarded after one or two uses for effective protection. Experts say, even wearing a damp homemade mask can reduce the number of droplets each of us emits while we speak, overall reducing the risk of transmission in the community.

But still, not everyone is encouraged to wear face masks. Why is that? 

The Debate

The reason why even the World Health Organisation urged people not to wear specialized face masks is that they feared a shortage of masks, leaving frontline healthcare workers without this important resource. They are the ones most vulnerable to the virus.

Another problem that is discussed is that masks require some training so that they fit properly and work effectively. If they are not sealed against the skin, particles can enter inside the wearer’s nose and mouth, rendering the mask useless. Even facial hair can cause the mask to not seal properly.

The important point that needs a mention is that WHO was referring to high-grade protective masks when they suggested avoidance of use by the general public. But there are several studies that have shown that the virus can be contained by the use of good quality face masks in the public.

Alternatives to Face Masks

People all over the world are making their own masks using whatever they have on hand. There are many ways you can create a mildly effective mask if you cannot access a proper one. Use any cotton fabric and attach a filter inside it, like a coffee filter inserted between folded pillowcases. According to a study, cloth pieces with a higher thread count are more effective in filtering out particles than other pieces of cloth.

The best way to create homemade masks is to use multiple layers of fabric with a piece of nylon, silk, or polyester on the top. This way you can filter up to 80% of particles with your homemade mask! Cotton flannel, felted wool, and quilting cotton have also been found to be particularly good at blocking ultrafine particles.

While all these options are viable in an emergency, the best way to protect yourself is by getting professionally made face masks. They are made so that they can best protect you and provide a good level of protection. Ready-made, reusable masks can be easily bought (here) and are a better alternative to the homemade substitutes.

We know that wearing a mask can be uncomfortable, especially for long periods of time. But it is a necessity to contain this pandemic.

Let us know your thoughts by commenting below.

Also, share your photos of homemade masks with us on Instagram at @theonemaskproject and we’ll feature you.

Stay Home Stay Safe!

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