(the following is a post by the lovely and talented Mrs Bookstooge, a paragoness of virtue!)
We currently live in a time where wearing a mask is considered normal. When walking around without a mask, it is common for me to see the other person do one of the following: tighten their mask, shudder, walk further away, or chastisement, all stemming from fear of sickness. Which leads me to ask, is wearing a mask truly helpful?
Many types of masks are available: cloth masks, surgical masks, dust masks, respirators, and finally, HEPA filter masks.
First off, cloth masks can be made at home with a handkerchief or cut cloth and a couple hair bands or elastics. Cloth masks can also be bought at most convenience stores. What do you get for your money? Fashion. That’s right. These are considered fashion masks, and function best as a placebo. There have been no randomized clinical trials or guidance for cloth masks and just because it is perceived as helpful doesn’t mean that it actually does anything besides look pretty.
Well, Mrs. B., you might ask, “What about surgical masks?” Surgical masks are designed to catch large droplets of liquid like sweat, sneezing, and runny noses. It’s basically like wearing a facial tissue. Look at the loose fit between the mask and face. Does this look like something preventing you from breathing in a virus? I don’t think so! All surgical masks were NOT designed to prevent their wearers from inhaling airborne contaminants or viruses. Don’t believe me? Just ask the Government!
Do I need to spell out what happens with a dust mask? It’s to stop dust! Dirt in the air! NOT disease. NOT viruses. Dust. The end.
Thus we come to an end of what I have seen people outside: cloth (fashion) masks, surgical (tissue) masks, and dust (dirt) masks.
But wait… there’s more!
Around the turn of the 21st century, I worked for an allergy relief superstore in Southern California for several years and sold HEPA filtration masks and purifiers for the home.
HEPA stands for High-efficiency particulate absorbing and is an efficiency standard for an air filter. Filters meeting the HEPA standard must remove at least 99.95% of particles equal to or greater than 0.3 micrometers in diameter.
HEPA filtration systems WORK. Question: Have you seen a HEPA filtration mask around YOU?
Warning: Anything labeled “HEPA-type, HEPA-like, HEPA-style, or 99% HEPA” are NOT HEPA standard. Do not be fooled. They are NOT HEPA filters!
After working with HEPA filters, anything less feels like a real let-down. Most respirators don’t make my cut as something “good”. Do respirators work? Some more, Some less.
Two final thoughts on filters:
One lady suggested I use money as filters. “They’re paper and this way you can smell money!” She said. I didn’t say anything to her, but please don’t try this at home. Money is filthy. Do you really want the smell of unwashed hands shoved in your nose?
Another lady suggested I use a tea bag as a filter. “It’s paper and you can smell tea!” She said. While not as bad as money, I wouldn’t want a used tea bag for multiple reasons. I didn’t say anything to her, but a clean tea bag is simply like a cloth mask, not effective at stopping you from breathing in contaminants.
My personal feelings about all the masks I see is that it’s better for someone to wear a mask if they are the type to sneeze or cough in your face because it’s better than nothing for preventing saliva from spraying you in the face. HOWEVER, the masks we see in the supermarket are mostly a placebo effort and it would do just as well to sneeze/cough into your own inner elbow as to wear one of the commonly seen masks.
Are you afraid to be unmasked?