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 spaces 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.
It now seems that the authorities are having second thoughts on the matter. The wearing of a mask is currently compulsory in airport transport. Other recommendations, obligations are to come.
Do you know why the health authorities did not recommend wearing a face mask? It is simply that 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 will require several changes from us, on various levels of our behavior. Respect for the social distance of 2 meters will sometimes be impossible.
For instance, we will have to wear a face mask in public spaces. More and more health authorities now recommend that we do. We should all understand that the face mask is meant for the safety of the people around the person who wears it. We will explain that further down in this text. First, let's take a look at the various 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.
It is all the more useless if the wearer has a beard because its sealing is impossible.
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.
It is for those reasons that the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that this type of mask be worn exclusively by people who are infected by the coronavirus.
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!