Face masks are a must-have in families as COVID-19 continues to spread. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended everyone to wear masks over their noses and mouths in public after evidence suggested that novel coronavirus might be able to spread through the air. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) stresses that this guidance applies to anyone over the age of two.
Also, families who are going out have been advised to look for cloth masks they could buy or make at home instead of using medical-grade masks. The CDC recommended that these be reserved for health care workers. Unfortunately, not everyone is well-informed about how these masks can actually help in preventing the transmission of the virus from one person to another. It’s particularly important for parents to know all about this to ensure the safety of their families, especially their children.
Why Wearing a Face Mask is Important Nowadays
Experts are helping the public prevent being infected by COVID-19 by advising them to follow specific practices including social distancing. Reports show that keeping a distance of at least 3 feet from other people lowered the chances of coronavirus infection or spread by 82%. The general public is also advised to wear face masks and cloth face coverings.
A recent study published in the journal The Lancet revealed that chance of infection or transmission with face masks was 3% compared with 17% without a mask—a reduction of more than 80%. Meanwhile, the chance of infection or transmission for eye protection was 6% and 16% without protection. The researchers also support universal face mask use because masks were equally effective in both health care and community settings.
According to Live Science, a science news website that features groundbreaking developments in science, space, technology, health, the environment, our culture and history, the researchers examined studies on COVID-19 as well as the related conditions SARS and MERS. They analyzed information from 44 studies involving more than 25,000 people in 16 countries. The studies included in this research examined the effects of social distancing, face masks, and eye protection (such as face shields, goggles, and glasses) on virus transmission.
The findings revealed that the chances of infection or transmission of COVID-19 with social distancing were about 3% when people kept a distance of at least 3 feet from others, compared with 13% when people kept a distance of less than that. The risk of infection or transmission was reduced by half for every extra 3 feet (up to 10 feet, or 3 m).
"Our findings are the first to synthesize all direct information on COVID-19, SARS, and MERS, and provide the currently best available evidence on the optimum use of these common and simple interventions to help 'flatten the curve,'” study senior author Holger Schünemann, a professor at McMaster University, said in the statement.
Another study conducted by researchers from Texas and California revealed that wearing face masks prevented more than 78,000 infections in Italy between April 6 and May 9, and more than 66,000 infections in New York City between April 17 and May 9. The team analyzed trends in the infection rates in three epicenters of the pandemic—Wuhan, China, Italy, and NYC—to determine the main transmission method of the virus.
According to CNN, an American news-based pay television channel owned by AT&T's WarnerMedia, the researchers also looked into the mitigation measures that were being used at those locations. This includes extensive testing, quarantining, contact tracing, social distancing, and mandatory use of face masks. The findings showed that infection rates in Italy and NYC only started to slow after face masks were made mandatory.
"Wearing of face masks in public corresponds to the most effective means to prevent interhuman transmission, and this inexpensive practice, in conjunction with simultaneous social distancing, quarantine, and contact tracing, represents the most likely fighting opportunity to stop the COVID-19 pandemic, prior to the development of a vaccine,” the authors wrote.
Different Types of Masks
Today, many experts and health professionals are often asked about the best type of mask that people can use to protect themselves from COVID-19. Face masks generally fall under three types: N95 respirator, surgical mask, and cloth face mask. Let’s explore each of them.
1 – N95 respirator
Of all types of face masks, N95 respirators offer the highest level of protection against Covid-19 infection. It is designed to filter out both large and small particles when the wearer inhales. It can also block 95% of very small particles, including viruses and bacteria. Unfortunately, N95 masks are in serious shortage even for medical professionals. They are also difficult to fit correctly. With that, the CDC does not recommend them for general use.
2 – Surgical mask
Surgical masks are designed to protect the wearer from sprays, splashes, and large-particle droplets as well as prevent the transmission of potentially infectious respiratory secretions from the wearer to others. While the US Food and Drug Administration has not approved any type of surgical mask specifically for protection against the coronavirus, these masks may provide some protection when N95 masks are not available.
Previous studies about surgical masks have demonstrated that they can block the large particles that fly straight out in front of the mouth. Unfortunately, the CDC also does not recommend surgical masks for the general public due to shortages.
3 – Cloth face masks
For now, cloth face masks are the most used type because they are cheap and easy to make. They can also be washed and reused unlike N95 respirators and surgical masks that are disposable. Experts say that cloth face masks may lower the risk of people without symptoms transmitting the virus through speaking, coughing, or sneezing.
However, cloth face masks are not as reliable as the other two types of masks. A 2008 study, for instance, indicated that homemade face masks may be half as effective as surgical masks and up to 50 times less effective than N95 respirators. But, experts still recommend everyone to wear these because "any kind of impediment is better than nothing.”
Overall, families should also consider other measures to prevent being infected by COVID-19. Proper hygiene practices and physical distancing are still the best methods of keeping everyone safe.