The Facts About Masks
By now you probably seen more masks than at any point since Halloween. You’ve seen practical masks, homemade masks and scarves and bandanas converted into masks. Some of them are brilliantly designed, a tribute to the creativity and resourcefulness of their wearers. Others look like they were cobbled together out of leftover pieces from Doctor Frankenstein’s laboratory. Whatever their construction, they’re all intended for the same purpose: to keep someone from getting infected and to prevent their passing on that infection to others.
Even with the prevalence of masks, there are a lot of questions about when and where you need them. Should you throw one on if you’re only going outside to check the mail or should you only wear it around someone you suspect to be sick? How much good will a mask do anyway?
The reason health experts recommend wearing masks has to do with how the coronavirus spreads. The most common way is when someone who has the virus coughs or sneezes. When that happens, droplets containing the virus are expelled into the surrounding air. These droplets may be visible in the form of spittle or they may be too small to see with the naked eye. Health experts refer to these droplets as aerosols. Transmission of the virus occurs when a healthy person inhales these droplets, which can linger in the air for quite some time. A mask forms a protective barrier so the droplets land on the surface of the mask instead of our mouth or nose.
The more tightly fitting a mask is the better it is at preventing those droplets from getting through. The reason a surgical mask such as an N-95 mask works is because it forms a seal around the nose and mouth, which doesn’t allow any particles to get in except through a filter.
Homemade cloth masks aren’t as effective since they don’t form a seal around the wearer’s face and they aren’t made of materials fine enough to filter out microscopic droplets. The primary benefit to wearing these types of masks isn’t to necessarily protect your own health, but to protect that of others. One of the particularly vexing things about the Covid-19 is that, unlike many viruses of its type, it has a longer incubation period. Those infected may not show obvious signs for several days but are able to infect others during that time. You may have it and not know it, so wearing a mask helps prevent you from spreading the virus, just as others wearing their masks protect you.
It’s important to note that wearing a mask isn’t necessarily a guarantee that you won’t suffer from Covid-19, any more than wearing a seatbelt makes you impervious to being injured in a car crash. You will still need to practice other good habits such as disinfecting surfaces that you frequently come into contact with, washing your hands often and trying to avoid touching your face in between hand washings. However, wearing a mask when used in conjunction with the other good habits can significantly reduce your risk of contracting the virus. In this day and age, masks aren’t just for Halloween anymore.