Superheroes wear masks. Are you wearing yours? Our lives have all changed this year. Everyone is playing a crucial role by wearing a face mask to fight against the spread of COVID-19. When you laugh, cry, sneeze, cough, sing, and laugh, you express respiratory droplets into the air. These droplets can carry viral particles, which can spread to other people. Facial coverings prevent these infectious materials from both entering into the air and also entering into your nose or mouth. We wear masks to protect ourselves and protect each other. Which mask are you wearing? Is it effective?
The CDC recommends:
All people 2 years of age and older wear a cloth face covering in public settings and when around people who don’t live in your household.
Different Masks Have Different Layers of Protection
Masks come in all varieties of colors, materials, and even accessories. However, not all masks prevent the spread of the virus effectively.
- N-99 and N-95
- Disposable surgical masks
- “Hybrid” cloth masks
- Cotton or silk masks
- Scarves and cotton T-shirts
N-99 and N-95 masks fit tightly against the face and also incorporate tightly woven material creating optimal filtration of airborne pathogens, thus leading the pack in mask effectivity. While surgical masks are also powerful filtrating barriers, most of these masks are reserved for medical personnel and others who are in high-risk occupations.
Cloth masks are the newest fashion accessory, now created by your favorite couture designer. Tightly woven cloth with multiple layers is preferred. Some people are even getting creative and turning their vacuum-cleaner bags into masks. You can even turn your old jeans that have become a little too tight after quarantine binging into successful masks with the tightly-woven denim.
T-shirts and scarves are least effective protective material, with a low risk of exposure of only about 24%. But, hey, still better than nothing.
While face shields are the newest rage, the CDC does NOT recommend face shields as a substitute for masks. They are, however, a great protective addition to your favorite face mask.
Update 8/12/2020: Duke University just published a new study about the efficacy of different masks, supporting the use of medical and cloth masks for adequate protection to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Also, this study supports that bandanas are basically useless as an appropriate face covering. However, the thin, stretchy neck gaiters, beloved by many athletes, are worse than not wearing a mask at all! It breaks up large respiratory droplets into smaller aerosols that are more transmissible and linger more in the air.
Glitter, sequins, and all of the bedazzling are fine accessories to jazz up your mask. Have you noticed that some masks come with a not-so-sexy but ever-so-rugged valve? While it may make you look like your favorite character in a sci-fi, post-apocalyptic film, just remember that these valves are made for 1-way air flow. This means that it is closed when you breathe in, your exhale pushes that valve open, leaving an opening for you to shoot viral particles at your kids, your partner, and even Grandma. Yikes! For this reason, Disney has banned valved masks in all of their theme parks. However, many people use these during high endurance activities to ease the flow of air through the mouth. While it may make it easier to breath heavily, take caution because there is a slight lag of the closure of the valve as you inhale, so that means coronavirus may be able to slip right through and enter your nose or mouth!
Wearing a Face Mask Properly
It is important that the mask you wear fits snuggly to your face. The tighter the seal, the less airborne particles can get through. While it may seem irritating to some, wearing a mask under your nose or under your chin isn’t blocking anything. The mask should be worn over the nose and mouth covering them completely. This is definitely less irritating that sitting in a hospital breathing through a respirator.
We should all do our part to protect each other during this tragic pandemic. Too many lives have been lost already: Old, young, sick, healthy. Your oculoplastic surgeons at Plastic Eye Surgery Associates ALWAYS wear face masks. Wear your mask, too, and we can all be superheroes!