With the fear that coronavirus has brought to the world, and, especially the United States, it’s no wonder that people are scrambling to do something. While some are using this time to stockpile things they shouldn’t, such as toilet paper and food, others are sitting on hundreds of face masks and other PPE.
Not only does this not help the average person, but it also keeps these essential items away from healthcare workers who do need it.
Clearly, the coronavirus pandemic is serious, and people should be doing what they can to prevent exposure and infection. Of course, human nature is to do something to fight the panic you’re feeling. Still, stocking up on masks isn’t the best thing you can do, even if they were readily available.
Those who already have them can be seen wearing them to gas stations, grocery stores, and even while driving in their cars. This is not necessary and could raise your risk of getting the disease.
Yes, people worry about cases within their community, but even if your neighbor has COVID-19 or another strain of the coronavirus, masks aren’t going to help.
Why Don’t I Need a Mask?
** UPDATE - This article was written taking in to consideration the health and safety regulations in effect at that time. However health official are now reconsidering certain regulations. More information here.
If you are relatively healthy, you don’t need to wear a mask and shouldn’t. There hasn’t been any evidence to prove that a healthy person wearing a mask is going to be more protected. In fact, it could cause you to be more at risk.
You’re more likely to wear the mask incorrectly. Therefore, you have to touch your face more often to reposition it. Also, when it is time to remove it, you do so wrong, as well. Often, people raise them from the face holding the front. Instead, they should be removed from the back. In a sense, you are touching the contaminated part and could risk getting the infection if you then touch your eyes or face without washing your hands.
Even those who know how to wear a mask the right way and never touch their face do not need to wear it.
What If I Am Sick?
In most cases, people buy masks that aren’t going to stop the virus from getting into their nose or mouth. COVID-19 is only transmitted through aerosols or droplets, such as from a cough or sneeze. The newer strain, SARS-CoV-2, is transmitted through the air. A mask can help in this case, but the type you choose matters. Plus, the ones that work best aren’t available, and any supply found is going straight to healthcare workers and first responders.
Still, masks are designed to keep air and droplets in instead of keeping them out. Their intended use is to ensure that the wearer of the mask doesn’t contaminate others.
If you are sick, you should, of course, wear a mask when you must leave your house. That way, others don’t get your illness. Also, it is a good idea to wear it at your home if you live with others. This way, you can protect your loved ones.
Those who are self-isolating with coronavirus should wear a mask when people come to help them, such as bringing food. The caregiver should also wear a mask if they are going to be in close proximity to the person.
The Right Type of Mask
If you do have good reasons for wearing a mask, such as those mentioned earlier, it’s important to use the right kind. You need one that is called a respirator because it reduces your risk to any airborne particles, including bacteria and viruses. Medical respirators are designed to protect the patient and wearer.
However, this is not the same as a “mask,” which does neither. To be allowed for use in medical settings, the respirator needs to be N95, which means 95 percent of all .3 microns are prevented from being breathed in.
Why You Still Don’t Need One
Medical personnel is trained to use medical respirators properly, as an airtight seal is needed. Still, these are not 100 percent effective. Of course, it does help, but you may not know how to dispose of or use the mask right. That can lead to increased infection risk because you are trapping these things in the air you are trying not to breathe in.
Masks often create a false sense of security, but medical professionals understand that they are still at risk, though it is lowered. They also wash their hands, avoid touching their faces, and use the recommended procedures to prevent exposure.
What Can I Do, Then?
Since you shouldn’t wear a mask (except for specific reasons), you may worry that you can’t do anything to protect yourself. However, there are ways to prevent exposure to coronavirus.
Almost every state in the United States has a shelter-in-place order right now. This means that you should not leave your home, except to go to work, grocery stores, and gas stations. Avoid contact with others when at all possible, and stay at home whenever you can.
If you must be out, make sure that you stay four to six feet away from other people and do not touch others. This is called social distancing, and it has been shown to be effective in other countries with outbreaks.
You should make sure that you wash your hands thoroughly and frequently. This includes after using the restroom, touching surfaces, and before touching your face.
While there are reasons when non-healthcare professionals should wear PPE (masks or gloves), the general public does not need to and shouldn’t. In fact, it could be more damaging to wear personal protective equipment if you aren’t trained on how to do so.
With the shortage of PPE available to hospitals and first responders, it is unwise to have or use it for yourself. It should be donated to local hospitals so that doctors and nurses who must be close to those with coronavirus can be as protected as possible.
Homemade masks can be made and worn, but again, the risk could increase if you don’t use it correctly. The best thing that you can do is to follow preventative measures and practice.