Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most everyone is wearing a mask outside of their home. It is now considered rare to see someone without a mask over their face no matter where you go. Most businesses like grocery stores, restaurants, and doctors’ offices now require you wear a mask upon entering their location. And in many states this is even mandated by statute or code. Let’s talk about some of the issues in regard to mask effectiveness.
The first thing to mention about masks is that you actually need to WEAR it to make it effective. Every day of the week I see someone walking around with the mask either around their neck, or it is hanging below their nose. A mask simply does not work if you refuse to wear it properly. These days I have seen many people wearing the ‘gaiter’ mask- i.e. the one that wraps around your neck and you lift it up over your nose to cover your face. The problem with this mask is that although it is better than nothing, it will not work nearly as well as the standard N95 does. In fact, here is what the Buff company says about their mask:
BUFF® head and neckwear protects against many of nature’s elements. However, while our multifunctional headwear products cover the entire front of the face (nose, mouth, chin, and neck), they are not scientifically proven by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) to prevent you from: (1) contracting a virus/disease/illness or (2) passing a virus/disease/illness to someone else.
The CDC and WHO also recommend that in hospital type setting where patients are coming in with active COVID infections, the medical workers really need to wear a proper respirator/N95 mask. Unfortunately, these type masks have been in high demand and there are shortages of these types of PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) and many hospitals are having their employees use regular cloth masks. At this time, there is still a shortage of even the cloth masks and many hospitals are requiring their staff to reuse them. It has been shown in various studies that cloth masks are quite effective and the problem arises when they are worn so long that they become wet and soiled from saliva and nasal fluids. There has even been a case or two of Legionnaires disease showing up due to the mask becoming so saturated with fluid that the bacteria builds up causing an infection. Now, hospital workers are advised to clean their masks frequently if they are required to reuse them. Some things that work quite well to clean are disinfectants, alcohol, and UV light. One of the safest and most effective ways to take care of a reused mask is to simply let it dry overnight and most bacteria will simply die off.
In our office, my team members wear the N95 mask with a face shield when they are right next to the patient. If they are doing a major adjustment to an appliance, they take the device to our hood system in the center lab. The hood is a medical grade filtration hood that uses heavy filters to keep everything inside the hood and it even has an additional plastic shield as well.
Because of the concerns about fluid accumulation in the mask, there are some new products coming on the market. I just saw one this morning that looks like an astronaut’s helmet- it has a build in fan and fits over your head completely. Then there is a cloth portion that snugs up to your neck. I am not sure if this thing would work for claustrophobic people. Most of the other ‘new’ ideas involve making your own mask using things like regular cloth and even cutting holes in your socks so they become ear loops! Overall, these ideas are better than no mask but the bottom line still is that the respirator/N95 is still the best choice out there.
I wish you safety, good health, and a proper fitting mask.