Masks and the Coronavirus

“Wearing a mask makes you more likely to catch the Coronavirus.” I heard someone say this the other day and it got me thinking. Most people do not understand face masks, a topic that I just take for granted. And why would they? Most people (thank God) have never had to don a face mask. This is why I am going to offer Face Masks 101.

Reese’s Face Mask

Reese, breaking out of the isolation unit, on Dec 20, 2018.

N95 Mask

Reese wears something called an N95 mask. An N95 is a type of respirator that filters out at least 95% of very small (0.3 micron) particles. This mask can be effective against the Coronavirus. It is most commonly worn by people who are immunocompromised (or people like me… people who are desperately trying not to catch something they can pass on to an immunocompromised loved one.)

These masks are thick and not “easy” to breathe through. (Part of why they are effective.) When I wear one, I find myself getting very hot and claustrophobic. Reese is completely used to it and she can complete any activity wearing an N95 mask.

It is NOT recommended that the general public run out and purchase an N95 mask for two reasons.

  • Medical professionals need these masks, and hoarding causes a shortage
  • If you do not have an N95 mask that fits well, or if you wear it the wrong way, it is not effective

Surgical Mask

These masks are paper, and they are what you have been seeing a lot on TV. These masks are not designed to keep out viral particles, they are meant to keep them in. A surgical mask keeps germs from spraying into the air when you cough or sneeze. These masks are not effective against catching the Coronavirus. But you might see someone who is sick effectively wearing one in an attempt to not spread their own germs.

Are you more likely to catch Coronavirus because you wear a mask?

Most experts agree there is no harm done wearing a mask. However, there are two pit falls that give this statement (a little) validity.

  • If you feel incorrectly protected, you may venture into high risk situations that you otherwise would have avoided
  • Some people mess with a mask when it is on their face. This means that the face is being touched more than it otherwise would- which is how the Coronavirus is spread

So there you go.

Conclusion

The correct face mask, worn the correct way, can effectively protect either the user or the surrounding people. So, when you see me wearing my N95 mask (that I have from UCSF, not Amazon) know that I am one of those people who is trying to protect a loved one. And that guy at the doctor’s office wearing a paper mask might be trying to protect you. And the girl on the train with an N95 might be immunocompromised… there are a lot of reasons for masks. And if you wear it for the right reason, the right way, it can be effective. 🙂

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