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Mask Safety Information

Why you should wear a face mask, and how to do so safely. ​

Written by: Linda Yan

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An infographic created by the Pennsylvania Department of Health demonstrating correct mask usage.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, wearing masks has been a topic of hot debate, resulting in everything from anti-masks protests to fierce confrontations at grocery stores. It has even become politically divisive, with high-profile politicians regularly sparring about their ethicalness and efficacy. 

However, amongst the scientific community, there has been a strong consensus that the wearing of face masks can help slow the transmission of the novel coronavirus. This is because masks, even low quality ones, can block out droplets that people breathe, sneeze, or cough out — droplets that may contain infectious particles. 

It is increasingly important that mask wearing is adopted universally, even in those who feel healthy, as it has been found that even asymptomatic COVID-19 patients can carry high viral loads that can infect others. These ‘silent spreaders’ can make up up to 80 percent of COVID-19 infections. As face masks are intended more to protect others rather than the users themselves, this further emphasizes the need for widespread mask usage.

Mask Safety

While face mask wearing is essential for the general public, incorrect selection and usage can result in discomfort, ineffectiveness, and even health complications in some cases. Here are some things to keep in mind when buying, making, and wearing masks:

1. Infants and toddlers should never wear masks. 

As infants have smaller airways, they may have a hard time breathing through a mask, leading to the risk of suffocation. Additionally, infants are unable to remove a mask if they are having difficulty breathing, further increasing their chances of suffocation. Face masks also should not be worn by young toddlers as they are likely to try to take the mask off or touch their faces more, leading to a higher possibility of them contracting the virus from their environment.

Instead of wearing face masks, to prevent the spread of the coronavirus to infants and toddlers, make sure to practice appropriate social distancing measures and avoid contact with people outside of your immediate family. Make sure to teach young toddlers to practice frequent handwashing, or use hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol when hand washing isn’t available. Hands should always be washed as soon as you return home.

2. Make sure that you are wearing your mask correctly. 

When wearing a face mask, make sure that the edges of the mask are as close to the skin as possible. This means that there should be no holes or gaps along the side of the mask where it comes in contact with your skin. Additionally, users should do their best to cover the entire bridge of their nose with the mask. Once a mask is put on, try not to readjust or touch your face in order to avoid contamination. If you have to remove your mask for any reason, do not pull it down around your neck or hang it off your ears.

3. Not all fabrics are created equal. 

When buying or making a cloth mask, make sure that you are using the correct material. Most surgical masks are made out of three layers of non-woven polypropylene materials, which can be found in some reusable grocery bags. However, as non-woven polypropylene can be difficult to source and quite expensive at times, tightly-woven cotton fabric is usually the next best material. Masks made out of synthetic fibers tend to perform the worst in blocking out aerosols. But if no other material is available, a mask made out of synthetic fibers is still better than no mask at all. Cloth masks that are made out of two to three layers of tight-weave fabric are generally the most effective.

4. Watch out for scammers.

If you are buying face masks online, be wary of fraudulent websites. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, face mask scammers have been frequently reported. Some customers reported receiving rip-offs that didn’t match up with the product shown on the retailer’s website, other customers placed orders that simply never arrived.

When purchasing masks online, opt for well-known and reputable retailers and brands such as Walmart, Etsy, or Outdoor Research. Additionally, while steeply discounted options may be tempting, they are frequently ingenuine.

5. Do not wear masks with exhalation vents or valves. 

According to health guidelines issued by the CDC (Center for Disease Control), face masks with vents or valves do not help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. This is because the hole that is meant to increase air flow results in “expelled respiratory droplets that can reach others” and potentially infect them. Although the vents can prevent particles from coming into the vents, they do not prevent them from going out, hence defeating the purpose of the mask.

6. Reserve surgical respirators and masks for medical and healthcare workers.

Globally, medical equipment, including face masks and respirators, is in short supply. Poorer medical systems and hospitals are especially struggling to obtain protective equipment, especially N95 masks, for their employees and workers.

It is instead recommended that the general public use cloth masks, which, according to a peer-reviewed study conducted by the Wake Forest Institute of Regenerative Medicine, were actually more effective than surgical masks. In this study, cloth masks achieved 79 percent filtration while surgical masks only achieved 62 to 65 percent filtration.

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There are many types of face masks and respirators, including surgical ones and N95s. However, it is recommended that the general public use cloth masks.

Making Face Masks and How You Can Help

If you are interested in making your own cloth mask, both the CDC and The Maker Mask provide medically approved face mask patterns as well as tutorials. 

Currently, many people around the world, including medical professionals, lack face masks. If you would like to help make face masks for others, check with your local public service institutions, such as hospitals, schools, and homeless shelters, to see if they are currently in need of donations. If you are located in the United States, the UC Berkeley School of Public Health We Need Handmade Masks initiative has created a growing list of hospitals, organized by state, that are currently accepting homemade masks.

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Homemade cloth face masks.

If you are looking to help out in this cause but do not have the time to make masks by yourself, please consider donating to PPE (personal protective equipment) initiatives such as #GetUsPPE or DonatePPE.org.

The designs in this article are presented As-Is. The goal is to present designs that can foster further discussion and be utilized in countries that permit this product. These are not finalized designs and do not represent certification from any country. You accept responsibility and release Helpful Engineering from liability for the manufacture or use of this product. This design was created in response to the announcement on March 10, 2020, from the HHS.  Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) who issued a declaration pursuant to the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness (PREP) Act

Link to Prep act. :https://www.phe.gov/Preparedness/legal/prepact/Pages/default.aspx

ALL WARRANTIES OF ANY KIND WHATSOEVER, EXPRESS, IMPLIED AND STATUTORY, ARE HEREBY DISCLAIMED. ALL IMPLIED WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY AND FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE ARE HEREBY DISCLAIMED. THIS DEVICE (INCLUDING ANY ACCESSORIES AND COMPONENTS) IS PRESENTED ‘AS IS.’

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