Whether more people should wear a strong face mask has become one of the fiercest arguments of the corona virus pandemic. A growing number of public health experts are arguing that people should wear a kind of mask while in public. This is to help prevent spreading the corona virus.
We will tackle three questions currently at the heart of the fast-changing strong face mask argument: Who can spread the virus? Can the virus be airborne? What’s the difference between the types of masks?
The debate over the strong face mask use is happening inside the Trump administration, academia, and hospitals. workers in this institutions are caring for COVID-19 patients. Public health experts have been pushing back against the narrow federal guidelines.
Part of the confusion stems from misleading messaging in the early days of the US outbreak. In late February, US Surgeon General Jerome Adams forcefully said that the public should not wear masks. His widely shared tweet made the contradictory argument that masks would not protect the public against the virus. But, at the same time, health care workers needed them for protection. He also didn’t specify what counted as a mask. An N95? A surgical mask? A fabric mask?
“The first reason to wear a strong face mask is to protect each other,” said Roger Shapiro. He is a Boston doctor and an associate professor of immunology and infectious diseases at Harvard. The best rationale for wearing a mask “is so you don’t infect someone else.”
All sides of the debate still agree that masks will only be effective in helping to slow the spread of the corona virus.
Here’s what we know so far:
People with no symptoms can spread the virus — so more masks could help stop the spread.
A growing body of data suggests that some percentage of people who test positive for the virus never display any symptoms. But, are likely still be capable of spreading the disease. In the cases of people who do develop symptoms, they can be contagious for a few days before that happens. People who are not wearing strong face mask could be spreading the disease without knowing it.
There are also questions about whether the virus can be airborne.
New research suggests the virus can sometimes spread through the air. Small particles have stayed aloft for up to 3 hours in a lab setting. That’s much longer than originally thought. But experts don’t actually know whether the virus is really spreading this way in the real world.
There’s at least one case where local officials are considering the possibility of airborne spread. It is at the choir recital in Washington state. No one was visibly ill at the event. But afterward at least 45 choir members likely got COVID-19, and at least one died.
Not all masks offer equal protection.
For the purposes of the corona virus outbreak, there are three main types of masks: respirators, surgical masks, and fabric, or homemade, masks.
N95- A Strong Face Mask
Rigorously lab-tested and government-approved. Designed to protect someone from 95% of the particles in the air. They are so protective both because the mask material is relatively non-porous. Designed to keep out large droplets and small particle aerosols. They are securely fitted to a wearer’s face to ensure stray particles can’t slip in through the sides.
In the corona virus outbreak, N95s are only recommended for health care workers. As they are performing procedures that put them most at risk of virus exposure. These are testing for the virus by swabbing a patient’s nose or mouth. They are most effective when used only once. But are currently being reused by doctors and nurses due to mass shortages.
They help protect the wearer against large droplets and more porous than N95. Do not protect against small particles in the air and they are disposable. Surgical masks are recommended for health care workers, caregivers, and people who are sick. They are also being reused due to supply shortages.
Fabric or home-made masks
They can range widely in material and quality and may offer some protection against large droplets. Do not protect against small particles in the air. According to one small study, they were three times less effective than surgical masks.
In the corona virus outbreak, people need to wear such strong face mask when caring for COVID-19 patients. And some public officials are already recommending the general public wear such masks.
Public health officials are increasingly coming on board to the idea of more people covering their faces. “They are not crazy. They are trying to protect themselves. And may it reduce their risk a little bit? Maybe.”