To Mask Or Not To Mask, That Is The Question

Wearing masks is increasingly becoming common as the COVID-19 outbreak sweeps the world. People can be spotted wearing N95 respirators, hardware-store masks, or even dish towels, vacuum bags or T-shirts in makeshift constructions. But there are almost as many opinions about how much mask-wearing matters and who should be wearing one as there are types of ad-hoc blockers. 

Another thing complicating the mask-wearing question is the fact that the United States is currently struggling with a lack of supplies.

According to a Cambridge University study, wearing some kind of mask — however improvised — can block a large majority of virus-sized particles from entering or leaving your nose or mouth. This is particularly important, since you can have COVID-19 and not know it. ”A homemade mask should only be considered as a last resort to prevent droplet transmission from infected individuals,” according to the study, “but it would be better than no protection.”

While it’s crucial to remember that a mask is not a shield against the virus (and wearing one doesn’t mean you can go about your day-to-day life as if the pandemic isn’t happening), wearing some kind of mask can actually help save others. Per this CNN report from last week, asymptomatic carriers might very well be the ones who are largely transferring the virus:

On Tuesday, Dr. Sandra Ciesek, director of the Institute of Medical Virology in Frankfurt, Germany, tested 24 passengers who had just flown in from Israel.

Seven of the 24 passengers tested positive for coronavirus. Four of those had no symptoms, and Ciesek was surprised to find that the viral load of the specimens from the asymptomatic patients was higher than the viral load of the specimens from the three patients who did have symptoms.

Viral load is a measure of the concentration of the virus in someone’s respiratory secretions. A higher load means that someone is more likely to spread the infection to other people.

The mask shortage is all the more reason to get creative and make your own, a good project for while you’re home. If you have to go out, your mask could be helping save someone you don’t know. And that’s a heartwarming show of solidarity, even while we have to stay apart.

As always, please consult the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, your health provider and guidance from the New York City Department of Health before adopting any health care strategy. 

photo: iStock