Ask the Doctors about wearing a mask

Copied directly from the Spokesman-Review newspaper Saturday 05 December 2020


Wearing a mask continues to be our best defense

By Eve Glazier, M.D., and Elizabeth Ko, M.D.


DEAR DOCTORS: Can you please explain about masks again? It would really help me to explain to my friends and family.

DEAR READER: We’ve written about masks before, but new information often takes repetition to sink in. It also takes time for new habits to take hold. We’re happy to do a recap.

Now that we have learned so much more about how this virus spreads, wearing a mask turns out to be a crucial part of protecting people. Research shows the virus travels in the droplets and aerosols we emit when we sneeze, cough, speak and sing, and even breathe.

When you wear a mask, you create a barrier that catches some of these particles and limits the distance your breath can travel.

Combine that with social distancing, and the odds of transmission are significantly reduced.

Even if you’re not worried about the coronavirus on your own behalf, you can be sure that there are vulnerable people all around you.

This one simple habit can literally save a life. In fact, the life you save may be your own.

A mask works by providing a network of fibers that both slows the force of an exhale and captures respiratory droplets. The closer the weave, the more effective the filtering effect of the mask.

Tightly woven cotton masks are more efficient than looser fabrics.

The nonwoven materials of the N-95 masks are the most effective.

Shape and fit also play an important role. A good mask has a snug but comfortable fit without any gaps around the perimeter. It fits over the nose and under the chin, and it leaves enough space around the nose and mouth for easier breathing. Masks with valves do not protect.

When you breathe out through a mask, the fibers capture many of the droplets you generate. The rest travel a much shorter distance.

When someone wearing a mask exhales near you, the load of aerosols headed your way is reduced.

If they do reach you, your own mask filters them, again reducing the number of particles that reach you.

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