Instructions and guidelines on wearing face masks have changed quite a few times this year in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. Some sources urged that everyone should wear a face covering, while other sources deemed it unnecessary. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are urging everyone to wear face masks to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
That’s the official recommendation, but social media has amplified the voices of so many armchair medical experts that there’s still much confusion around the use of face masks as personal protective equipment or PPE. Does it stop the spread of COVID-19? Can you get sick or dizzy from wearing a face mask? Is it really mandatory to wear one?
Why Should You Wear a Face Mask?
Wearing a mask helps to prevent the spread of the coronavirus to other people around you. If everyone “acts as if” they have the virus already and wears a mask, then everyone is protecting each other. That’s the underlying logic.
Scientists are still learning about ways in which the coronavirus is spread. Yet, it’s understood that respiratory droplets are one of the main forms of transmission. When a person speaks, breathes, coughs or sneezes, those droplets can travel 6 feet or more in the air. So, by wearing a face covering, the wearer can prevent these respiratory droplets from spreading.
Some people can spread the coronavirus even though they aren’t showing any symptoms such as a high fever or severe cough. You might be infected and not even know it. While you’re out conducting your day-to-day business, you could unwittingly infect others. That’s why everyone should maintain social distance, wash your hands regularly and wear a face mask when out in public.
Where Should You Wear a Face Mask?
Some states, countries and municipalities have made face coverings mandatory in certain settings. For example, in the United Kingdom, it’s mandatory to wear face coverings on public transportation. If you don’t wear a face covering, then you might receive a costly fine.
There are other instances when it’s best to wear a face covering. When you enter closed spaces such as the grocery store or post office, you might want to protect yourself and others by wearing a face mask. However, you might not need a face mask when you are outdoors or driving a vehicle alone.
Private establishments might have their own guidelines about wearing face masks, too. You should look for signage at the location or look online to see whether a particular business requires a face mask. Many hospitals and clinics require a face mask, but there are even some retail stores and eateries that require customers to wear face coverings. It’s best to check for guidelines before you travel.
You should wear a face mask if you have COVID-19. If you are in contact with other people, then you should even wear protective face coverings in your home. You should also wear a mask if you come in contact with a person who is believed to be affected by COVID-19. So, if you visit someone who has COVID-19, be sure to wear a face covering.
How to Properly Wear a Face Mask?
A face mask covering loses its effectiveness in certain conditions. You need to wear one properly. The body of the mask or covering should extend onto the bridge of your nose and down to beneath your chin. The point is to minimize respiratory droplets from escaping, so it’s important for your mask to be free from holes or tears. It should fit comfortably without the need for constant adjustment. This way, you won’t need to touch your face and you will limit your chances of accidentally transmitting the virus.
When Should You Not Wear a Face Mask?
Children under the age of 2 years old are not urged to wear face masks by the CDC. Neither are people who experience shortness of breath or have temporarily lost consciousness. You might not need to wear a face mask in your own home or in situations where other social distancing measures are more effective.
Different Types of Face Masks
These are the type of respirator face masks that are used in a hospital setting by healthcare professionals and first responders. Anyone who is working with patients who might have the coronavirus should wear an N95 respirator. However, these medical devices are in short supply. So, if you aren’t a health care worker, then you should avoid buying and wearing an N95 respirator.
Surgical (Procedural) Masks
These masks don’t have the tight seal of the N95 respirators but can help prevent the spread of respiratory droplets. You might recognize these masks because they have pleats on the front and often come in blue or pink colors. Surgical masks are designed for a single use and they don’t provide full coverage on all sides. However, they do provide some protection against respiratory droplets. Be sure to discard them after every use.
Cloth masks come in a variety of styles and designs. They include bandanas, scarfs, and anything else that can adequately cover the nose and mouth. You can easily make one from home and the CDC recommends that people wear cloth masks to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. You can re-use a homemade cloth mask, but you should wash it after every use. These are not medical grade PPE, but they are inexpensive to produce and have some level of effectiveness against spreading infectious diseases.
In April of 2020, researchers from the University of Chicago published the findings of a study on cloth masks to determine which type of cloth performed the best at blocking respiratory aerosols. The study findings were published by the American Chemical Society. Researchers found that a cloth mask with more than one layer of protection worked best. By adding two layers of chiffon or silk to a tightly woven cotton material, a properly worn facemask could block 80-99% of aerosol particles.
Dangers of Prolonged Use of Face Masks
Many people are worried about feeling sick while wearing a face mask. Some wearers say that they’ve felt dizzy, nauseous, or have a headache as a result of prolonged use of their face mask. There are numerous posts on social media that question whether or not wearing a face mask is dangerous.
In truth, wearing a face mask creates a micro-climate of sorts around the nose, cheeks, and mouth. These masks and respirators are designed specifically as PPE (personal protective equipment) and weren’t designed for comfort. They should be considered as medical devices and worn with a full understanding of their materials and purpose.
An in-depth and comprehensive study on the dangers of face masks was conducted in 2005 by researchers at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. They studied four types of masks – N95 respirators, surgical face masks, and N95 respirators and surgical masks that had been treated with nano-filtration technology.
The study found that temperature and humidity increased inside the mask when participants engaged in moderate exercise. The more restrictive the mask, the more difficult it was for participants to take in sufficient oxygen. This shortage of oxygen made them feel unwell, dizzy and uncomfortable. This effect was compounded by the amount of time each participant spent wearing the masks.
Surgical masks with nano-filtration performed the best in their study, and N95 respirator masks presented the most stress for wearers. The researchers concluded that face masks should only be worn in short to moderate intervals and have sufficient filtration to prevent a build-up of respiratory heat.
Scientific knowledge about the spread of COVID-19 is growing every day. However, there are some basic guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that provide clear information about the use of face masks. This form of PPE can help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, but it’s not a cure. It’s not fully effective at preventing someone from catching COVID-19, but face masks limit your risk. You still need to maintain social distancing, wash your hands regularly, and take measures to reduce your contact with people who might be infected.