Cloth surgical masks were first used in the late 19th century and were replaced by modern masks during the 1960s. Surgeons do not wear masks to protect themselves from the patient, but to protect the patient from their own oral and nasal bacteria.
In any case, masks do protect the users themselves. A variety of masks are currently marketed in a wide range of design, material, filtering specifications, and prices. Both cloth and paper masks will offer protection against COVID-19…. but not one-hundred-percent protection. For this reason, we must observe additional precautions such as social distancing, hand washing, etc.
Can COVID-19 get through the face mask?
Masks are designed to filter out small particles from the air. In theory, the virus that causes COVID-19 could easily evade even the high-quality masks that we see in our streets lately. More than 200,000 individual viruses would fit into the period at the end of this sentence. The good news is that we become infected through somewhat larger particles, consisting of the virus itself, mucus, cellular debris from the lungs and throat, etc.
A face mask is not a substitute for social distancing
Sadly, masks also tend to give the user a false sense of security.
When I see neighbors in masks sitting next to others I will ask, “If I were to tell you that the other guy is actually infected with coronavirus, will you continue to sit with him? Or will you back away? After all, you do have a mask? If he is also wearing a mask, will you be reassured?
I am reminded of the early days of the AIDS pandemic which continues to this day. Young travelers en-route to exotic countries would assure me that they will use condoms. I would ask them, “If you found out that this specific person is HIV-positive will you continue to partner with them? After all, you are wearing a condom!”
How to properly wear a face mask
Masks should be as closely fitted to the skin as possible. The nose must also be covered. Note that when people are tested for the virus, a swab is inserted into the nose – because that is where the virus is!
We often see medical professionals – and even doctors in the operating room – with masks worn below the nose. This is not only poor practice, it is blatantly illogical! Several years ago, we conducted an experiment to test the influence of mask position on contamination rates in an operating room – see Effect of Surgical Mask Position on Bacterial Contamination of the Operative Field
Regarding the problem of eyeglass fogging, my surgical colleagues recommend that the mask must be pressed tightly onto the skin under the eyes, but worn loosely under the chin to redirect the flow of exhaled air.
So, here’s a thought! Walking among strangers without a mask is like having unprotected casual sex. But, unlike venereal diseases (and even HIV / AIDS) COVID-19 can kill, and you may well become a danger to the lives of your loved ones!