Covid-19: Not every mask protects against the virus

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Face masks are supposed to protect against infection, but comparison shows that the different models only do this to a limited extent

In many Asian countries the wearing of face masks during flu season is a matter of course. Since the outbreak of the corona crisis, they have also been omnipresent here. At the same time, reserves are becoming scarce. Furthermore, not every model provides reliable protection against viruses.

Homemade masks

There are instructions for do-it-yourself masks on the web, which can be made from fabric with a sewing machine. For those who want to go even faster, wrap a scarf around their nose and mouth. Those who decide to do so should know: Fabric is not impervious to viruses.

Even worse, if healthy people wear masks made of fabric or paper in public places to protect themselves from infection, this is not very effective and more of a “psychological measure”. Because masks – no matter what kind – give their wearers a false sense of security. Textiles cannot prevent viruses such as Sars-CoV-2 from getting into the mouth or nose. This is because they are so small that the tissue used would have to be much more closely woven. In addition, to be optimally protected, the mouthguard must fit perfectly, cover the nose and mouth, and the mask must fit snugly against the face. If there are any gaps, the purpose of the mask is missed. With bearded people, a good fit is difficult to achieve.

The mask is one thing, its correct use is another: wash hands thoroughly before putting on the mask, do not touch the mask while wearing it, and if it is soaked, it must be changed immediately and must not be reused.

Surgery masks

Surgical masks consist of several layers of paper or fleece and are fixed with bands behind the ears or tied together at the back of the head. They are primarily used to protect the wearer’s surroundings, and are designed to prevent surgeons from spitting into the patient’s wound during surgery. According to the WHO, patients can protect their surroundings by wearing a surgical mask because it helps to reduce the distribution of secretion droplets when speaking, coughing or sneezing. In the other direction, i.e. to protect the wearer of the mask from a virus, these models do not work either. This is because their material is also too coarse-meshed to prevent Sars-CoV-2 from penetrating the body.

FFP masks for medical personnel

The so-called FFP (Filtering Face Piece) masks are used wherever people need to be protected from hazardous substances in the air – in addition to medicine, this is mainly the construction industry.

FFP1 masks protect against non-toxic dust particles such as cement, plaster or pollen. They filter at least 80 percent of particles in the air down to a size of 0.6 micrometers. FFP2 masks are suitable for working environments in which harmful and mutagenic substances such as granite, silicone or sodium are present in the air we breathe. Because these masks filter the air extremely, breathing becomes very difficult. Therefore, these models often have an exhalation valve and cannot be worn for more than an hour. They are therefore not suitable for private individuals who want to protect themselves from the virus during common every-day activities.

N95 respirators

An N95 respirator is a more tight-fitting face mask. In addition to splashes, sprays, and large droplets, this respirator can also filter out 95 percent of very small particles. This includes viruses and bacteria; therefore, this mask is actually more suiting.

However, N95 respirators aren’t one-size-fits-all. They actually must be fit-tested before use in order to make sure that a proper seal is formed. If the mask doesn’t seal effectively to your face, you won’t receive the appropriate protection. In addition, these masks are currently in short supply and urgently needed in the health sector. Therefore, they should be left to medical personnel.

In summary

Most forms of face protection are either not helpful, not accessible or too uncomfortable for everyday use or a simple walk outside. Also, general masks are not a suitable protection against the virus alone – they must be combined with other preventive measures like washing hands and social distancing. They give a false sense of security while not being able to filter the common virus.

However, if you have an acute respiratory infection yourself and have to move around in public places, any kind of mouthguard, even if it is made of fabric, can be useful to protect others. According to the Robert Koch Institute, this reduces the risk for others to become infected. The barrier retains droplets that are catapulted into the environment when coughing or sneezing. After usage, the masks should then be discarded properly, and hands should be cleaned with alcohol rub or soap and water, to prevent further contamination.

For further information you can look up the info page of the WHO!

 

Sources

DerStandard.at (2020): Nicht jede Maske schützt vor Viren. URL at: https://www.derstandard.at/story/2000116121330/nicht-jede-maske-schuetzt-vor-viren

WHO.int (2020): Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) advice for the public: When and how to use masks. URL at: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public/when-and-how-to-use-masks

TheGuardian.com (2020:Can a face mask protect me from coronavirus? Covid-19 myths busted. URL at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/23/can-a-face-mask-protect-me-from-coronavirus-covid-19-myths-busted

Healthline.com (2020): Can Surgical Masks Protect You from the 2019 Coronavirus? What Types, When and How to Use URL at:https://www.healthline.com/health/coronavirus-mask#protection