COVID-19; UNDERSTANDING THE USE OF THE MASK
In this COVID-19 period linked to the coronavirus a recurring question is: should I wear a face mask when I go out to public spaces?
Almost all worldwide public health authorities have a different opinion on the subject. Let us try to shed a light on that matter.
From the very outset of this crisis
The Canadian authorities declared that wearing a face mask in public places was unnecessary. They argued that the mask gave people a false sense of security against this viral infection, and they maintained that opinion until very recently.
The health authorities had second thoughts on the matter, and some people are now rightfully confused.
It is now mandatory, in the province of Quebec and in France, to wear a mask in airport and public transportation and in enclosed public settings. Other provinces and States are expected to follow suit.
Do you know why the health authorities did not support, and some still do, the use of masks at first? It was simply to prevent a contamination risk by the mask.
We touch our face more than ten times per hour, for all sorts of reasons. This gesture is the main vector of infectious diseases. We will get back to this topic later on in this article.
We must follow the safety instructions in place:
- stay at least 2 meters (6 feet) from other people
- cough or sneeze into the croock of your arm, where you bend your elbow
- thoroughly wash your hands with soap regularly
Progressive resumption of activities
The progressive resumption of daily activities requires several changes from us on various levels of our behavior.
For instance, we will have to wear a face mask in enclosed public places. More and more government authorities now recommend that we do. All of us should understand that a face mask is not intended for the safety of the person who wears it, but rather for that of the people around him. More on that further down in this article. First, let's take a look at the different types of face masks.
The main face masks
There are 3 primary types of face masks:
- the N95 respirator
- the surgical mask
- the homemade cloth face mask
The N95 respirator
This respirator is a more tight-fitting face mask. Its name is derived from the fact that if filters 95% of very small particles suspended in the air. Those measure 0.3 microns or 25 times smaller than a red blood cell. A micron is a thousand of a millimiter, so the particles are microscopic in size!
The respirator is efficient because it is designed to form a tight seal to the face; in other words, there should be no air leaks around the mask. The respirators are not one-size-fits-all, they should be fit-tested before use.
It is obvious that because this type of mask requires a specialized fitting in order to be efficient, it cannot be made available to the general public.
The procedure or surgical mask
The procedure mask also known as surgical mask is not designed to protect the wearer from inhaling airborne virus particles. This mask is not air tight. Quite a few people do not wear facial masks properly. In order to be the most effective, the mask must be as snug to the face as possible. It should cover the mouth and nose up to the nose bridge.
Health professionals, and surgeons in particular, wear it to protect the surgical site from bacterial contamination. In other words, it protects the patient.
The homemade cloth face mask
This type of mask offers no protection whatsoever to the person who wears it, and for the same reasons mentioned above for the procedure mask.
Someone chooses to wear a N95 respirator in a public space
Wearing such a mask in public spaces is a totally unnecessary waste!
There are several types of N95 respirators; they do not fit all face shapes and sizes. In order to be efficient and protect adequately the person who wears it, this type of mask needs to be fit-tested first.
Please note that any hair growth (beard, mustache or sideburns) will prevent a facial mask from fitting properly as airtight integrity cannot be maintained.
Someone chooses to wear a procedure mask in public
A procedure mask worn in a public space offers no protection whatsoever to its wearer. On the contrary, the air is free to invade it from all sides while it gives the person a false sense of security, making him forget all about the safety rules he should adhere to.
This is emphasized by the fact that the person who wears this type of mask will use his hands often, at times to adjust it, make it more comfortable or because he feels a tingling underneath it. Touching your face with your hands is a higher risk of contamination. Removing the mask is a contamination risk as well if the person cannot wash his hands thoroughly immediately afterward.
Instructions on how to apply a surgical mask
The surgical mask should be handled with extreme care, otherwise there is a contamination risk for the person who wears it. Let's proceed step by step:
- the surgical or procedure mask is a physical barrier worn over the mouth and nose. It protects the wearer from being contaminated with droplets that may be infected with the coronavirus;
- the outside surface of the mask is therefore considered contaminated, soiled;
- the inside of the mask is contaminated with our own germs.
You should wash your hands carefully before putting on your mask. It should be adjusted tightly over your nose and below your chin. Then, you should not touch it again.
Each time you touch your mask, you should wash your hands!
The mask should be removed after a maximum use of 4 hours.
Instructions for the correct way to remove a surgical/procedure mask:
- hold both the ear loops, gently lift and remove the mask;
- the mask, it cannot be used again;
- wash your hands very carefully.
Viruses spread through droplets
Droplets from a cough or sneeze may splash over several meters. Viruses spread from those droplets and provide them with an environment that allows them to remain infectious during many hours and even days in some cases!
Wearing a face mask significantly limits the spreading of the droplets and decreases the airborne quantity of viruses. This gives a clearer picture of how it protects the people who are near the person who wears a mask.
Someone wears a homemade cloth mask
Wearing a homemade cloth mask is similar to wearing a procedure mask.
It protects the others by reducing the spray of droplets that comes from the person who wears it.
This is an unprecedented time
COVID-19 is a truly historic moment that will require major behavioral changes from us. Until then, we will gradually return to our previous activities and adapt to our new reality with other perspectives.
Wearing a face mask is part of our transition period. We must understand why we wear it and especially for whose benefit we are doing it.
And you, thank those who wear it for your protection!