Face masks in the time of COVID-19

In the current days of COVID-19, one of the items in high demand is face masks. After all, a virus that transmits through droplets and attacks the lungs, would be best kept out if your nose and mouth are covered.

While the N95 face mask is touted as having good filtering efficiency, the commonly available face masks are not fool-proof. This means that they are not a guarantee against the virus, but they obviously would offer some protection to you (if you are well), and to others (if you are unwell), rather than nothing at all.

Face masks are an integral part of Japanese life. It is common to see people of all ages, on the streets and on public transport, wearing a mask if they have a cold or cough. It is not so much for themselves as for the people they come in contact with. The intention is not to pass whatever infection they have to anyone else.

Tokyo man with mask
Tokyo, November 2012

In the weeks just gone by, when masks were flying off the shelves of American stores, the citizens were told to refrain from using them. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in Feb 2020, stated “Do not use facemasks. CDC does not recommend the use of facemasks for the general public to prevent the spread of 2019-nCoV.” (Source: businessinsider.in) US VP Mike Pence, who is heading the White House Coronavirus Task Force said that “the average American does not need to go out and buy a mask”.

@Surgeon_General Jerome Adams on 29th Feb on Twitter wrote, Seriously people- STOP BUYING MASKS! They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus, but if healthcare providers can’t get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!” 

The CDC website has the following:

CDC mask advice

So the message to Americans actually was not that “masks are useless”, but “we don’t have enough masks so keep them for those who really need them”. Fair enough, but the problem is that people from the public who are carriers of the virus may not be using masks. So how does one protect oneself from such people who might inadvertently sneeze or cough the COVID-19 droplets, putting everyone around them at risk?

As per reports, the Czech Republic has made covering of nose and mouth mandatory in public places. It does make sense doesn’t it? It would serve well in India. Hopefully it will bring in a no-spit culture, no more paan-stained walls.

As with everywhere, in Mumbai too masks are in short supply. This will be the case till such time our very own Ordinance Factory starts production of face masks, other manufacturers up production, China is back in action (if we still want to buy Chinese goods). While we don’t want to take away supplies from those who need the masks, it’s a good idea to wear one when we step out. So why not make our own?

They’re many tutorials one can find on the internet, with different designs and variations. This is the one I followed. To make it I used left over cotton fabric and elastic. In this design, the elastic goes around the ears.

I like this one as well, where the ties go around the head.

I gave the one I made to our building’s breadman Aspak today. He was happy to replace the handkerchief he was using. “I can wash and reuse it”, he said.

Post COVID-19, I suspect that face masks are going to become the norm. If you’re looking to find something to do over the next couple of weeks of curfew in India, this may just be it!

Research shows that face masks (whether surgical or cloth or any other) offers some protection when compared to no mask at all. Surgical masks are more effective than cloth ones. (See research paper here)
For doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers, who wear masks for several hours a day, research indicates that surgical masks are recommended and cloth masks should be avoided. (See research paper here)      

3 thoughts on “Face masks in the time of COVID-19

  1. anhuigusheng August 26, 2020 / 9:25 am

    Excellent presentation, regarding the use of face masks, uses, and related problems, The images are also contained lots of information, which illustrates the real scenarios and also sets an example of what to do and what not to do… Thank you, waiting for the next blog….


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