Covid19 often referred to as coronavirus is contagious and can be deadly in people with underlying comorbidities. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Whitehouse Coronavirus Task Force on covid19, health experts and doctors recommend wearing masks in public to minimize the spread of the virus to others. Because of the shortage of personal protection equipment (PPE), many people have resorted to making their own protective masks attempting to mirror the n95 mask. However, do they really prevent the coronavirus or just minimize the risk?
The term n95 has been widely generalized for homemade masks, but this is not necessarily the correct term. People are making protective masks, thinking they are equal to the protective quality of the n95 whereas they may not be.
To be considered n95, a mask must meet certain criteria. Foremost, the n95 mask filters out 95% of all particles in the air. A single cloth mask made of household material would most likely not meet this criterion. Keep in mind that porous materials, multiple layered materials, or dense unbreathable materials are not a good choice for masks that are homemade.
Materials that are recommended for use because they seem to have better protection for homemade masks are:
- Hybrid materials or multiple materials that combine cotton, silk, chiffon, or flannel
The masks are recommended to slow and delay the spread of coronavirus from person-to-person contact plus from those that may have the virus but are asymptomatic showing no symptoms. Wearing a mask is only an effective barrier if it is worn properly.
Wearing the Homemade Mask
Every homemade mask must be worn properly on the face to be affective. It must cover the mouth and nose area completely and fit properly. The mask should not be so large that it has visible gaps or is so tight that outlines of the lips are seen. Practice wearing the mask at home first before using it outside.
A homemade mask can be secured to fit around the ears or tied in two spots on the back of the head. If the mask you have is a tied mask, make sure there is no hair getting caught in the ties or in the facial area. Hair in the face will prevent a proper fit of the mask allowing airborne particles to get out and in under the cloth.
Wash or sanitize your hands prior to putting the mask on. It is important that you are putting the mask on with clean hands. Position the mask on your face, covering your mouth and nose.
If you want to know N95 Mask alternate, check our guide on KN95 Mask.
Fitting the Mask
Every time you put the mask on, make sure it is:
- Covers the nose and mouth
- Ensure there are no gaps
- Check that there is no hair in the ties and in the facial area
- Once secured, move around to determine if the fit is snug enough not to allow air in or fog glasses
- Adjust as needed before going out to minimize any changes needed while wearing the mask
Test the masks fit to make sure you cannot smell odors or feel air-gaps while wearing it. When wearing the mask, remember not to touch the front of it as that would contaminate your hands dispersing airborne particles. This defeats the purpose of wearing the mask. After wearing a mask, remove the mask by the earpieces or straps in the back. Do not touch the front.
Place the mask in a bag until you can wash and sanitize it properly with soap and hot water. Do not put a used mask on the table, in a purse, pocket, counter, car seat, or dashboard. The goal is not to expose areas to contaminants. Try not to reuse a mask until it has been cleaned and sanitized.
There are not enough indications at this time that the homemade mask will filter all substantial microbial particles to prevent the person wearing the mask from contracting coronavirus. It has been shown that following the proper ways to wear, fit and take off a mask is essential from spreading germs.
Several countries around the world are implementing strategies that require their citizens to wear facemasks. Japan, Hongkong, the Czech Republic, China, Sweden, Taiwan, Vietnam, and Austria to name a few. These countries have all seen cases of coronavirus slow or flatten after the enactment of wearing masks. Many of these countries have incorporated extensive public use of masks.
During the SARS-CoV-2 virus in 2004, Singapore’s government did not mandate the wearing of masks. However, after consideration and empirical data, the government distributed masks to all its citizens and mandated wearing them. The results showed how infections were minimized when the masks were worn.
Similar results are seen through research done on stopping the spread of influenza.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, physician, immunologist, current director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the Whitehouse coronavirus task force, recently stated that wearing a mask may reduce the spread of coronavirus by as much as fifty percent. That percentage is remarkable if it is accurate. Wearing the mask alone to curtail the spreading of coronavirus is only one aspect that the task force recommends. Wearing a mask is also in conjunction with other guidelines to flattening the curve.
Thailand conducted tests on the effectiveness of masks and determined that cloth masks can protect against droplets expelled from coughing and sneezing. Sweden, on the other hand took a different approach. The country did not shut down but put in place safe practices and what they call “social trust and personal responsibility”. They require all people that have a sore throat, cough, fever, and aches to stay home. All people over 70 years old are asked to stay home. Restaurants could only serve people dining in at a table and not a bar. Masks are recommended but optional. They are now seeing cases on the rise and additional deaths.
As more ongoing studies on coronavirus are taking place, it is known that the virus is spread through airborne particles, contact with surfaces where germs are sedentary, and droplets in the air. (Reason.com) Openly coughing, sneezing, and expressing nasal mucous without covering the mouth and nose area leave countless amounts of particles in the air and on surfaces for unsuspecting people to have contact with.
A homemade mask worn properly minimizes the particles a person may have contact with. Therefore, the homemade mask has a protective value and gives inward and outward protection. Stopping some contagions is better than exposing yourself to them.
This is a simple practical application and a common-sense approach to protecting society from a pandemic spread of the coronavirus and other viruses such as the flu and common cold.
Homemade facemasks decrease the transmission of germs. The exact effectiveness of deterring the contagions of coronavirus or preventing it by wearing a homemade facemask is still being established. Current research shows that when your homemade mask is made of good material, chances are you have a level of protection from airborne pathogens from the people you encounter.
Therefore, it can be concluded that while a homemade mask will not completely prevent the coronavirus from spreading, it is likely that using one will diminish exposure. Wearing a mask will protect others from airborne microbial germs. The result of this will lead to a reduction in new cases of coronavirus infections among the populous. That ultimately is the goal of why masks are recommended and why so many people are making homemade masks.
Remember a mask does not prevent catching coronavirus. A mask only assists in preventing the spread of the virus.