WAYNE – At the beginning of the coronavirus Covid-19 scare there was an enormous push to get face masks produced and distributed – along with ventilators, disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer. The numbers of masks being delivered was right up there with the daily body count and ventilator numbers during Coronavirus Task Force briefings.
DO THEY REALLY WORK?
Now, for many of us, after months of hand washing and sanitizing, face masks remain an integral part of our daily wardrobe. But are they effective against the coronavirus? The answer is – “it depends.” There are face masks … and then there are face masks.
For healthcare providers and first responders, the N-95 mask is believed to be the “gold standard” for protection, along with a face shield or eye protection and other personal protective equipment (PPE). But to be effective, the N-95 mask must be custom fitted for each user and ideally, tested for leakage. The N-95 mask typically is equipped with a special filtering device and may reduce up to 95 percent of the particles in the air. But some who wear the N-95 mask also report it makes breathing difficult.
Common surgical paper or cloth mask.
For the rest of us, we’ve been relegated to using simple paper or cloth face coverings. But a recent Huffington Post article states that these masks work mostly by preventing sick people from passing around airborne diseases and are not effective in preventing inhalation of the coronavirus micro-organisms. Plus, without complete eye protection, there’s still an open portal for the virus.
To complicate the situation, there’s a greater tendency for people to touch both their mask and their face trying to fiddle with placement – increasing the virus risk, since hands are the most frequent cause of transmission.
CDC PROVIDES LITTLE REAL GUIDELINE
Examination of the various CDC guidelines is likewise vague – citing no confirming study that paper or cloth masks work. Instead, their statements are typically included with – “in conjunction with hand washing and social distancing.”
So, what’s the bottom line? First, if it makes you feel better, wear one. But know that paper and cloth masks, by themselves, offer limited protection – and may in fact contribute to virus spread. And there’s still an open virus portal – your eyes.
If you’re experiencing coughing, sneezing or other illness that might be spread through the air, a paper or cloth mask MAY be helpful in reducing your threat.
And in all situations, frequent hand washing (or use of hand sanitizers when you can’t wash) and social distancing remain as your best weapons against not only the coronavirus but other airborne diseases as well.