By Apollo 24/7, Published on - 23 September 2020
Face masks play an important role in source control i.e. preventing the travel of respiratory droplets into the air and transmitting it to another person when coughing, sneezing, or talking. The Coronavirus is known to primarily spread from person-to-person through the inhaling of the respiratory droplets of an infected person directly or by touching contaminated surfaces.
As a recap, it is already common knowledge that wearing face masks when stepping out of your homes can help in the following ways:
In a recent publication, Springer Nature stated that besides protecting others from COVID-19, masks may lower the dose of the Coronavirus (viral inoculum) for the person wearing the mask. This means that even if a person wearing a mask does get infected, the outcome could be mild or asymptomatic.
The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) has projected that if everyone in India starts wearing a face mask in addition to physical distancing, around 2 lakh deaths can be prevented by 1st December.
Other research about the efficacy of face masks is consistent with the above projection:
Face masks can be broadly grouped into two categories:
Medical masks, also known as surgical masks are categorised as personal protective equipment (PPE) and are designed for single-use. Medical masks can obstruct large-particle, germ-containing droplets/sprays/splashes/splatter and prevent its entry to your nose and mouth. These masks comprise three or four layers made of fine fibres to block droplets while also allowing easy breathing.
Fig: Surgical mask
An N95 respirator is also a PPE that can filter airborne particles very effectively by fitting closely to the nose and mouth, its edges forming a seal around them. They are recommended for use in healthcare settings. They are similar to medical masks and are meant for single use.
Fig: N95 respirator
Non-medical masks, also known as cloth masks, fabric masks, or cloth face coverings, are masks made of different materials, usually cloth fabric. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the use of these masks in public settings (e.g. while using public transport).
Fig: Cloth mask
Face shields wrap around the sides of the wearer’s face and are primarily designed for protecting the eye. As there is limited evidence on the efficacy of face shields for source control, the CDC does not recommend its use as an alternative to face masks. Only in situations where wearing masks is not feasible, face shields may be used.
Fig: Face shield
Masks with vents or exhalation valves
Masks with vents or exhalation valves are not recommended for use by the CDC as these masks do not prevent the mask-wearer from passing on the COVID-19 infection to others. These masks allow expelled respiratory droplets to reach others through the valves or vents thereby defeating the objective of source control.
Fig: Mask with valve
Cleaning and handling of the various types of face masks
Surgical masks/N95 masks – As stated earlier, these masks are meant to be used only once. Once used, it should be discarded safely by placing it in a plastic bag and then into the trash bin. This should be followed by washing your hands.
Non-medical masks – These masks are washable but check for washing instructions on the label or with the manufacturer. If the fabric can tolerate washing in warm or hot water (60 degrees centigrade), you can use detergent or soap while washing it. You may soak the mask in 0.1% chlorine for one minute followed by rinsing the mask with room temperature water.
Face shields – Carefully wipe the face shield with cleaner wipes or a clean cloth soaked in detergent solution. If you’re not wearing gloves, hands should be washed thoroughly after cleaning. Refrain from touching the mouth, nose, and eyes when removing the face shield.
Which mask should you wear?
It is best to choose your mask based on the public setting you are in and other factors like your occupation, the health of your family members, etc. Healthcare experts and government officials generally agree that masks – even, simple cloth ones – can significantly slow the spread of the virus and reduce deaths, especially when used together with other protective measures like social distancing and hand washing.
Until when should we wear face masks?
Unfortunately, there is no definite and clear answer to this as yet. Considering that it will take months for all people to get access to it, we must continue wearing masks to control the COVID-19 pandemic. Many countries are continuing with mandates for mask-wearing in public places, such as malls, grocery stores, pharmacies and public transport. Wearing masks is also encouraged as it can reduce the burden on the already stressed healthcare system until a long term solution is available.
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