In the new normal, face masks have become a standard thing to wear. While some masks are better than others, the real meaning of wearing one is more than science: it is about unity during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The true meaning of wearing face masks was explained by a lecturer at the University of Portsmouth in The Conversation, a not-for-profit media network. In certain countries, people must wear face masks to be allowed in public. However, face masks do not have to be surgical masks or N95 respirators. Thus, a person wearing a cloth mask represents their cooperation in the ongoing battle against the pandemic. Despite its low protection level, a cloth mask is still recommended than wearing none.
What are the Protection Levels of Face Masks?
Today, three masks are popular in protecting people from liquid droplets that may contain SARS-CoV-2, the virus of COVID-19. But these masks offer different protection levels to the wearer. And regardless of the protection level, wearing one of these masks is better than not wearing one at all. This is because a mask creates a physical barrier between particles and the wearer. At the same time, it forms a barrier between the wearer and other individuals, altering the direction of the wearer's breath.
According to the Mayo Clinic, an American not-for-profit medical center, the masks are N95, surgical, and cloth. N95 masks are actually an example of respirators that block 95% of tiny particles, about 0.3 micrometers. Surgical masks are the ones mostly worn in the clinical setting designed to filter respiratory secretions and saliva. Cloth masks are reusable masks normally used to block large particles like dust. Due to the shortage in N95 respirators and surgical masks, the common populace can only use cloth masks.
While surgical masks are tailored in the clinic setting, the US Food and Drug Administration has not approved a certain type of surgical mask against SARS-CoV-2. Though, surgical masks are recommended if N95 masks are not available in the clinical setting. Outside that setting, cloth masks are advised if both N95 and surgical masks are not available.
Whether or not the mask can provide high levels of protection, its use must be combined with other preventive measures to reduce one's chances of contracting COVID-19. So, wearing face masks, washing the hands properly, and maintaining social distancing can increase the overall protection of a person against the novel coronavirus.
For children, face masks are not advisable for kids younger than two years of age. The texture of the masks can obstruct their airways. Similarly, face masks should never be put on people who have difficulty breathing or unconscious. The masks can potentially suffocate them.
The Solidarity in Wearing Cloth Masks
Simon Kolstoe, a senior lecturer in Evidence Based Healthcare at the University of Portsmouth, explained the social importance of wearing cloth masks. Their previous tour at a United Nations designated biosafety level four laboratory detailed the different kinds of face masks. Those masks could protect wearers from various dangers, such as toxic chemicals, biological agents, and even radioactive particles. However, the selection of masks would depend on the particular task.
In hospitals, healthcare workers must wear a surgical mask or an N95 respirator underneath their face shield. Because COVID-19 can be spread through respiratory droplets, a mask alone cannot shield the wearer's eyes. In common settings, cloth masks are considered enough to protect wearers as long as they practice social distancing and avoid touching their faces. But why are cloth masks accepted if they cannot provide high protection?
The explanation is simple: it is a barrier. Similar to scarfs, when a person wears one, the scarf covers their mouth and redirects their breath around their face, not directly in front of them. This is the same logic with cloth masks. The fabric helps divert their breath around their face and absorb some of the moisture, compared to breathing without a mask. Even if some studies have found cloth masks to have minimal efficiency in preventing droplet transmission, researchers do not disapprove of their use as a last resort. It is best to wear a cloth mask than no protection at all.
In the social setting, people wearing masks represent their cooperation in controlling the spread of the virus. Since face masks are a norm today, people may frown on seeing others who do not wear masks in public. They may think that those individuals are either fools or reckless in the midst of the pandemic. So, even the protection level from cloth masks is diminutive, the simple gesture of wearing one shows the wearer's awareness and unity to the global health threat.
"The demonstration that you are doing something is better than the helplessness of feeling you can do nothing. Signaling to others that you are taking this seriously and trying to respect their safety as well as your own is, therefore, an important statement of solidarity," said Kolstoe.
Statistics about Face Masks
According to Statista, a German portal for statistics, manufacturers of medical supplies continuously produce items to assist healthcare workers and patients. As of February 3, 2020, a total of 14,806 units of medical face masks were produced in China on a daily basis. Out of that, 116 units were N95 respirators while 9,980 were surgical masks. All of these items were dedicated to healthcare workers in the hospital setting.
Meanwhile, in Europe, the use of face masks surged dramatically after cases ballooned in the continent. In a survey from April 27 to May 10, 2020, participants in 10 European countries were asked how frequently they wore face masks to protect themselves and others from COVID-19. The percentages of those who always wore face masks were 87.8% in Italy, 63.4% in Spain, 55.3% in Germany, 39.2% in France, 10.5% in the UK, 5.6% in the Netherlands, 4.6% in Finland, 4.2% in Norway, 3.5% in Sweden, and 3.1% in Denmark. On the other hand, the percentages of those who never wore face masks even with the threat of COVID-19 were 1.3% in Italy, 6.4% in Spain, 7.9% in Germany, 25% in France, 73.6% ion the UK, 75.3% in the Netherlands, 80.1% in Finland, 79.1% in Norway, 82.4% in Sweden, and 87.1% in Denmark.
Everyone should take COVID-19 seriously because it is beyond a health threat. It is an economic threat that can cause job displacement, income loss, and hunger. The more people ignore the precautions for COVID-19, the higher the odds of new outbreaks starting. If new outbreaks rise, the global healthcare system may no longer hold the fight.