I want you to think back to a year ago. You were at the grocery store and the woman in front of you had a basket of produce resting in the crook of her elbow, waiting to check out. Things seem normal...except...
She is wearing a mask.
A year ago, people who wore masks were the weird ones. You avoided them and skirted around them in the bread aisle like a sick person in the hospital. Wearing a mask was juststrange. Nowadays, however, things have changed. The rules have flipped totally. Now YOU are the one being skirted around in the bread isle because you don’t have a mask on like everyone else. Is this just another cultural fad, or is there any science behind this?
To quote the CDC here:
Your cloth face covering may protect them. Their cloth face covering may protect you.
What does this mean? Well, the “them”in the quote is referring to anyone you may encounter while out and about, particularly people at risk (people more susceptible to the disease). When you wear a mask, it helps the people who are counting on you to stay safe. On the other end, when people around you wear a mask, it can help protect YOU from the disease. Like many things in life, we have individual responsibility and collective responsibility.
When talking about masks, we need to be specific. In this article, Cloth Masks are the focus, but there are a variety of other options that you may know. The reason we aren’t coveringN95(surgical grade) masks is that they are overkill for the average consumer, and the people who need them (medical workers) are running low. The single-use surgical masks, alternatively, are designed forsplashes, not water droplet spread.
The science behind COVID-19 spread is getting better with moredataevery day. As it is currently understood, the primary mode of infection is from contaminated water droplets being inhaled into your body and into your lungs. The most common way to “produce” water droplets is to sneeze or cough, but prolonged speech and heavy breathing are also ways to put water droplets in the air. For someone with the virus (even if they don’t show symptoms), sneezing, coughing, and talking with a mask on traps the water droplets, stopping the spread in its place. For someone who doesn’t have the virus, you don’t breath in the water droplets that others breathe if they irresponsibly don’t have a mask on. Wearing a cloth mask keeps you and others safe.
A common question asked in regards to masks is the validity of the addition of filters. Many masks offer the addition of a PM 2.5 filter that can be changed out every week or so. To break it down, “PM” stands for Particulate Matter and the “2.5” stands for the filter size in micros. To make it easier to understand, the average human hair is about 60 microns wide, making a 2.5-micron filter 30 or so times finer than a hair. These filters are incredibly effective at removing pollen, dust, metals, smoke, and more from the air you breathe.
While the safest thing would be to lock yourself inside and never leave, it isn’t the most practical thing. If you have any plans to go outside or interact with family and friends, you can do yourself (and them) a favor and wear a cloth mask.
Written by Colby Maxwell