Medical Shield Pro | The Role of Masks in Reducing the Spread of Coronavirus | Masks act as an easy barrier to help prevent respiratory droplets from traveling into the air. Respiratory droplets are known to play a role in the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19, so wearing a mask and practicing what is known as source control can help lower the possibility of the virus spreading. COVID-19 spreads mainly among people that are in close contact with each other, so they use of masks is especially important in settings where people are in close proximity with one another or where social distancing is difficult to enforce.
Evidence Shows that Masks Help Reduce the Spread of the Virus
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) together with the World Health Organization has recommended that masks be worn by the general public, with health experts saying that the evidence is obvious that masks can help prevent the spread of the Coronavirus.
One category of evidence comes from laboratory studies of respiratory droplets and the ability of varied masks to dam them. An experiment using high-speed video found that many droplets were generated when saying an easy phrase, but that most droplets were blocked when the mouth was covered by a humid washcloth. Another study conducted with individuals who had influenza or a cold found that wearing a surgical mask significantly reduced the quantity of those respiratory viruses emitted in droplets and aerosols.
A study published in Health Affairs compared the COVID-19 growth rate before and after masks were mandated in 15 states and found that the mandates led to a slowdown in the daily COVID-19 growth rate. In three weeks, the daily growth rate had slowed by 2 percentage points.
Another study looked at coronavirus deaths across 198 countries and found that those with norms or policies in place that favor mask-wearing had lower death rates.
Who Should Wear A Mask?
The CDC recommends that all people aged 2 years and older should wear a mask in public settings and when you are around people that do not live in your household, especially in situations where social distancing cannot be properly implemented. COVID-19 is often spread by people that do not have symptoms do not know that they are infected, so it is important for everyone to take part, even if they feel healthy.
It is also recommended that individuals who are taking care of those infected with COVID-19 should also wear a mask. Though the protective effects of masks and how they can help prevent individuals from inhaling the virus are limited, caregivers should still be proactive in preventative actions. These include avoiding close contact when possible, frequent hand washing, cleaning and disinfecting surfaces, and avoiding touching the eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
Masks should not be worn by children who are younger than 2 years old, those who have trouble breathing, and anyone who is unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance.
Do masks protect the people wearing them or the people around them?
As stated earlier, source control is vital in preventing the spread of the virus. Masks are more effective as source control since they can prevent large droplets from evaporating into smaller droplets that can travel farther.
When wearing a mask, those infected with the virus reduce the chances of infecting others since the mask blocks droplets that they may expel. Masks are important for both those showing symptoms as well as those without any since asymptomatic individuals might still be able to transmit the virus.
According to communicable disease specialist Peter Chin-Hong, MD, “The concept is risk reduction rather than absolute prevention. You don’t throw up your hands if you think a mask is not 100% effective. That’s silly. Nobody’s taking a cholesterol medicine because they’re going to prevent a heart attack 100% of the time, but you’re reducing your risk substantially.”
Even with social distancing practices, Rutherford still insists that everyone should wear masks. “You should always wear masks and social distance. I would be hesitant to try to parse it apart. But, yes, I think mask-wearing is more important.”
How do the different kinds of masks work?
- Surgical/Medical Masks
Surgical masks are loose-fitting disposable masks that protect the wearer’s nose and mouth from contact with droplets, splashes, and sprays which contain germs. Surgical masks are also capable of filtering out large particles in the air and can help protect others by reducing exposure to the saliva and respiratory secretions of the mask wearer. These masks may provide some protection, but they are not entirely ideal especially when there are gaps when covering the nose and mouth.
- N95 Masks
A respirator of sorts, N95 masks offer more protection than surgical masks because they can filter both large and small particles when the wearer inhales. As the name suggests, N95 masks are meant to dam 95% of very small particles. Some N95 masks have valves that make them easier to breathe through as air is released when the wearer exhales. Masks of this type are not recommended since the virus can still escape the mask.
- Cloth Masks
Cloth masks are meant to trap droplets that are released when the wearer talks, coughs or sneezes. While surgical and N95 masks could be in limited supply and should be reserved for health care providers, cloth face coverings and masks are easy to seek out or make and are washable and reusable. They are easier to find and may even be fabricated at home, with the CDC website including directions for no-sew masks made up of bandanas and t-shirts.
How to properly wear a mask
It is important that you take the necessary precautions when actually using and wearing a mask so as not to defeat its purpose. First, make sure your hands are washed or your hands are sanitized before and after putting on the mask. Place the mask over your mouth and nose, and make sure it is tied snugly. Never wear your mask while wearing it, and if you do, wash or sanitize your hands. If your mask becomes wet or dirty, dispose of it and switch to a clean one. When removing the mask, make sure not to touch the front of the mask or your face. Immediately wash your hands after removing the mask.
Masks are critical precautions and are essential especially during times when social distancing is difficult. If masks cannot be used, practice measures used to scale back the danger of COVID-19 spread, including social distancing, frequent hand washing, and cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces. Wearing a mask may take an initial period to adjust, but the science has shown that it can help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The more people buy-in to wearing a mask and social distancing, the sooner the curve can be flattened.
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