Not too long ago, if someone had told us that we would need to wear a face-covering to leave our homes, we would have told you that was crazy. With the onset of COVID-19, it has become a reality around the world. With no sign of the end of the pandemic insight, the use of facemasks will continue. Wearing face masks is nothing new, though, and has been around for centuries.
Covering the mouth and nose was a sanitary practice for protection against contagious diseases even back in early modern Europe. Spices and perfumes were put under the masks to neutralize what was known as miasma. The face coverings used during the plague were shaped like birds’ beaks and very daunting. By the 18th century, these acts had become marginal. The medical masks of today can be traced back to these times. Today's surgical and medical masks are of much higher quality and manufactured based on the understanding of germ theory and the understanding of contagions.
Due to COVID-19, we have been instructed to wear masks or face coverings when out in public. This advisory is for everyone, including the public. Those working on the front lines and medical personnel have much stricter guidelines.
As researchers continue to study and learn more about COVID-19, we must use all advised safety measures to help thwart the virus's spread. The other safety measures recommended are practicing frequent handwashing with water and soap and physical distancing. If soap and water are not available for handwashing, then hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol is recommended.
Do Face Masks Offer Protection from Coronavirus?
The answer is yes. If you are in a public place with other people, you should be wearing a mask or face covering. Masks help contain respiratory droplets that can spread COVID-19 from those unaware that they even have the virus.
For example, when you are inside a store, office, school, or restaurant, a face covering or mask should be worn. The only time exceptions should be made when wearing a mask is if you are with your immediate family, in your car, or your office or workplace with the door closed tightly.
If you are exercising near others or walking outdoors near others, it is vital to wear a mask.
Does Wearing a Mask Prevent the Coronavirus from Spreading?
It has been proven that face masks or medical masks can help reduce the spread of the virus. If someone is infected with the virus and does not know it, the mask works to keep respiratory particles and droplets from contaminating others. The mask can also help save someone else’s germs from entering your mouth and nose that comes from another person’s breathing, talking, or sneezing.
Some people have COVID-19 that do not experience symptoms or have very mild symptoms. These individuals can spread the virus to those around them before they even know they have it. Many believe the symptoms are flu, cold, or allergies. It is hard to tell the difference with the presenting symptoms in the beginning stages until the person has a COVID-19 test to confirm. Remember, the virus can be spread by droplets released into the air by singing, coughing, sneezing, and speaking- these are why it is becoming mandatory that masks are required in many public places around the globe.
Wearing face coverings and medical masks are particularly important when protecting those who have health risk factors. Those with known risk factors include the elderly, chronic lung disease, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, cancer, or immunity problems.
Different Types of Masks
There are numerous masks available on the market. Different types of masks include:
- Cloth Masks- This type of mask fits on the face and is secured using ties around the head or ear loops. There are multiple layers of cloth fabric (cotton is recommended) that create the barrier or wall between the wearer's mouth and nose and the outside environment. This barrier helps to contain respiratory droplets that you may exhale out. The thicker and more layers the mask has, the better the barrier.
These masks can be made at home, even if you do not have a sewing machine. Some have become inventive and using materials and things such as socks to make face coverings. For instructions on how to make face coverings from the CDC, please visit here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/how-to-make-cloth-face-covering.html
For those who want to try different masks or face coverings, there are other ideas here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yiYjb5U-Vo0
There are many resources available on the internet for mask ideas that range from easy to make to more complicated.
Surgical masks are known as personal protective equipment (PPE). These masks are disposable and worn by those in the medical field or medical professionals. Surgical masks are most often made using plastics and paper products, and most are light blue.
Surgical masks are manufactured to give protection against larger respiratory droplets. They have proven remarkably effective in helping to protect others near you if you are carrying the virus. These masks are disposable and should only be used one time. The drawback of these disposable surgical masks is that they cannot be reused and are not washable.
Surgical masks can be purchased at most supply stores and ordered online through sites such as that of Clinical Supplies USA.
Masks can be ordered in lots of 50 and more. Normally, the more that are ordered at one time the cheaper the cost.
Transparent sheets of plastic attached to a headband covering the face from the top of the head to the bottom of the chin comprise the face shield. Face shields are typically worn by healthcare professionals who perform medical procedures where there may be a splatter of body fluids. Those in the field of dental hygienism commonly wear face shields.
Those who are out in the general public and are practicing social distancing do not have to wear face shields, and the experts do not recommend it.
N95 Masks or Professional-Grade Masks for Medical Use
The N95 mask and professional medical masks are sized carefully so that a tight seal is formed between the outside air and the wearer's face. These masks are specifically manufactured to offer healthcare workers the highest protection from droplets in the air.
When professionally fitted, these respirators are highly efficient. Those who work in the healthcare field and wear these masks undergo multiple tests to ensure that a full seal is created for protection- these services and masks are not currently offered to those in the public realm.
N95 masks should only be worn by healthcare professionals to conserve the high demand for PPE needed to combat the virus. N95 masks are to be used by essential workers only.
Where to Buy N95 Masks
As the pandemic continues, people are purchasing masks from anywhere they can find. Whether it is in brick and mortar stores or online, the most sought-after masks are the N95 masks. These masks are considered the safest and the gold standard of them all. It is no secret the N95 mask has been proven to be the most successful in stopping respiratory droplets while speaking, sneezing, or coughing.
PPE shortages are persisting, leaving those in a vulnerable state most at risk, including our frontline workers and healthcare providers.
For those who are working on the front lines, the CDC recommends the wearing of N95 masks. For those who do not work on the front lines and are just going out into the public area, it is recommended that cloth masks are worn. N95 masks should be saved for those who are working in the medical field.
N95 masks can be purchased online or through a local medical supply companies.
N95 Mask Scams
When the pandemic hit, there was a shortage of N95 masks. Medical personnel and companies scrambled to be able to get masks in stock. As fast as they were being made, the masks were being bought.
It did not take long for counterfeit masks to begin showing up on the market. So, how does one tell the difference between a real N95 mask and a fake one? Here are a few tips:
- There should be no decorative fabric that is part of the mask.
- No TC number or approval printed on the headband or facepiece of the N95 mask.
- There should be no claims that the mask is approved for children.
- N95 masks do not have ear loops. All N95 masks have headbands.
- On counterfeit masks, there are no NIOSH markings.
- The word NIOSH will be misspelled on fake masks.
A NIOSH approved respirator will have a label either within or on the mask's packaging and an authorized number. All N95 masks can be verified through the CDC website here: https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/npptl/usernotices/counterfeitResp.html
All N95 masks must be checked to ensure they are authentic and offer the best protection available for medical and frontline workers.