The topic of face masks has been prevalent during the eight months we’ve been living with the coronavirus pandemic. Many questions have surged: will shortages cease? Do we really need them? Which one should we wear? And so on. People in the news and online have been talking about reusable and disposable face masks, N95 respirators, KN95 masks, face shields, and medical or surgical masks for the entirety of this confusing year.
With all the uncertainty and confusion that surrounds everyone with the pandemic situation, information is our best ally to overcome the adversities. A lot of misinformation, myths, and lies have been floating around regarding face masks, and this could put at risk people’s lives. This is why we’ve put together an informative article that will explain the importance of PPE (personal protective equipment) during the coronavirus pandemic, how surgical masks work, and the three most common pieces of disinformation about these face masks.
A brief explanation of surgical masks
Surgical masks are disposable face masks that, unlike N95 masks, are loose-fitting around the face. Their main function is to act as a physical barrier between the mouth and nose of the wearer and the potentially harmful particles found in the environment. These are masks that shouldn’t be shared between people and can be paired with a face shield for increased virus protection.
People usually refer to them as medical masks or regular face masks, but this doesn’t mean that any type of face mask is a surgical mask. They need to be properly regulated and certified for use in medical settings, and can’t be substituted by any type of disposable face mask. They can vary in terms of the level of thickness they have, which will offer different levels of protection and breathability.
As a disposable face mask, surgical face masks should only be used once and by the same person, just like N95 masks. After use, the mask should be discarded properly, always washing your hands after handling the used mask. The mask should be removed, besides when the wearer finishes its use, if the mask gets damaged or it’s hard to breathe with it on.
Since surgical masks act mainly as a physical barrier between the wearer and droplets, splashes, splatter of sprays of respiratory secretions from other people (and vice versa), they aren’t as efficient as N95 masks for virus protection. As a filter, they only protect against large particles, which don’t include the flu virus, the coronavirus, dust, or smoke. Also, with the loose fit around the face, leakage is easy to occur.
The three most common pieces of disinformation about surgical masks
Surgical face masks were common to be seen on doctors and nurses, not on regular people on the street. So, it’s normal for people to be confused and ignorant about certain aspects regarding them. But, misinformation can lead to dangerous situations, which is why here are the three most common pieces of disinformation about surgical masks:
- Surgical and N95 mask work the same way
We mentioned in our explanation about surgical masks that they are significantly less efficient for virus protection than N95 respirators, which are considered to be the best mask for antiviral purposes right now. Surgical masks don’t filter small airborne particles like viruses and only act as a loose-fitting physical barrier, unlike the N95 mask.
- Surgical face masks protect against inhaling airborne pathogens
Continuing on the previous myth, we want to emphasize that surgical masks don’t offer protection against inhalation of small airborne particles, including viruses. They only trap large particles of respiratory and other body fluids that could contain microorganisms like viruses and bacteria, preventing them from reaching the wearer’s nose or mouth.
- It doesn’t matter if you touch the inside of the face mask while handling it
This isn’t true, and it applies to both surgical masks and N95 respirators. To prevent the contamination of the face mask, always avoid touching the inside or outside of the face mask. Sanitize your hands first, and then handle the mask by the straps, ear loops, or headband. It’s also important to always wash your hands both before and after you remove the mask.
The coronavirus and the importance of PPE
By now, we all know the basic information about the pandemic and the virus that is causing it. The new coronavirus species, named SARS-CoV-2 was first detected in December of last year, and almost a year later, scientists are still working to completely understand it. Unlike other coronaviruses, which tend to cause mild respiratory infections in humans, the virus responsible for COVID-19 can sometimes be deadly.
The majority of the cases are either asymptomatic or very mild, with the development of flu-like symptoms like sore throat, dry cough, and muscle pain being the most common ones. However, COVID-19 can be much more serious in a very specific group of people considered to be vulnerable to developing a more severe form of the disease.
We can name older people, people with conditions like cardiovascular disease, Diabetes Mellitus type 2, obesity, and immunocompromised patients, among the most affected ones from the virus. COVID-19 can be very serious in them, leading to severe damage to the lungs and other organs, with the potential of multi-organ failure and death.
Although the size of the percentage of cases that develop a severe form of the disease is relatively small, it gains more importance when cases increase prominently and a lot of people get infected at once. This is worsened by the collapse of the healthcare system, which has been seen in many countries already. This is the reason why is everyone’s responsibility to wear a face covering, even kids, to prevent the most vulnerable people in our communities from getting infected.
Anyone who uses any type of face covering is helping their community to stay safe. You can find many options, including 3M N95 masks like the 3M 8511 and 3M 8210, for sale, with options to buy in bulk or wholesale.