Face masks are all over the news right now. Some countries have even made wearing them mandatory. In Japan, you are not required to wear a mask by law, but they have been and still are very common.
Before the pandemic, Japanese people wearing masks used to cause amazement amongst many tourists.
The most common misunderstanding was that it is because of the bad air quality that masks are necessary.
Other than a few unusual cases, where extreme weather conditions caused smog from China to travel as far as Japan, this is untrue.
The real reason, the majority of Japanese wears masks is out of consideration for others. It is thought as a common courtesy to wear a mask when experiencing symptoms or recovering from a cold.
Now the most common misconception seems to be that one should wear a mask to protect one’s self from the new coronavirus.
Some argue that masks are useless. Because they do not filter out the smaller particles that cause COVID-19.
This is mostly being truthful. Common masks are not designed to filter particles as small as the ones that cause the new virus.
Health experts and research specialists recommend masks because they help to keep you from spreading the virus to others.
The masks do so by limiting the distance the larger droplets travel when coughing and sneezing. That also makes it easier to keep surfaces in public areas clean.
It is possible to carry the virus without any strong or no symptoms at all.
Because of that, it makes sense to try and do everything theoretically possible to stop spreading the infection.
Everyone wearing a mask does just that.
The N95 Mask
Some masks might give a little protection. Like the N95 type mask.
The N95 masks are designed to filter out 95% of particles of 0.3 microns or larger. Even though the particles that carry covid19 could be as small as 0.1microns (0.1-0.5 microns, according to the current estimate), they often travel attached to larger particles like house dust (0.3 microns).
The problem with the design of the N95 masks is that most have valves to make it easier to breathe out (the small plastic bit that sticks out). These valves do not filter the air exhaled, which means that they are considerably less effective when it comes to preventing the spread to others.
There is also not enough of them to go around.
Many healthcare organizations actively ask for a temporary ban on the sale of the N95 masks to the common public until there is enough supply to equip all the healthcare workers with the N95 masks.
Cloth masks block some of the larger droplets created when sneezing and coughing. The masks also reduce the distance the wears exhale travels (depending on the design considerably better than the N95 masks do).
How to use
These are some easy things one can do to make wearing face masks more effective.
Only touch the strings that go around the ears and not the part that covers the face.
Wash the mask after each use. Most cloth masks are machine washable. Alternatively, they can be washed by hand with warm water and soap.
Don’t reuse disposable masks. When done using, take it off by the strings and put it into a closed rubbish bin. Then wash your hands.
Masks are not magic.
A mask might not protect you from the virus directly, but according to the current research, everyone wearing one does slow down the spread of it.
Even if it is just by a little. A little is still better than nothing.