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We are hearing more discussion about encouraging mask-wearing in the US. What is changing? According to this article and what I’m hearing from my hospital, it’s actually a shift in paradigm.
A face mask will not protect you from being exposed to COVID-19. It will generally cover your nose/mouth and prevent accidentally touching them, but it is not protective from the virus itself. That requires a particulate respirator, like an N95.* However, particulate respirators can be dangerous for people with poor breathing conditions. We saw how our garbage media have run with the fish tank anti-parasite chemical story. All it would take is one lady stuffing an N95 on her asthmatic husband, and media would be portraying Trump as personally choking the guy to death like Darth Vader. Also, people need to shave to use a normal respirator. The media would tun that into Trump wanting to kill orthodox rabbis and Muslim men.
Realistically, we apply PPE as the last resort in controlling a hazard, and only have people who need the PPE wear it. Right now, people are working out how to reuse disposable N95 masks, in addition to using one mask for the whole shift. The people with the highest risk in hospitals and clinics need the N95s desperately. In a war, it is challenging enough to get ammo for all of the soldiers on the front line, without getting everyone at home a full stock of ammo as well. That’s why you have not heard about masks – the ones available in mass quantities or craftable at home are do not protect the individual, while the N95s need to be kept for front-line people.
So why are they reconsidering masks for everyone? Because the masks protect other people from you. In essence, this approach looks at all people as potential carriers of the virus. A mask thick enough to stop droplets can be made at home without too much trouble, and there is no problem with reusing the mask as the only germs it has on it are ones you already have. This community-focused paradigm is more common in Asia, and I expect it to be a harder sell over here. Think of it as a portable quarantine.
The reason I call this a paradigm shift is that the facts I mentioned above have not changed. The change was in how we view and interpret them. When I saw the announcement from Infection Control that mentioned replacing self-quarantine with masks for people without symptoms, you could imagine a light-bulb popping up over my head.
So, Wear a Mask, Protect America … from yourself.
* Respirator classification notes: The letter determines how the respirator handles oil. No oil, oil-Resistant, or oil-Proof. The number refers to the mask’s efficiency at capturing particles. 95%, 99%, or 99.97%. P100 is normally sold as cartridges for a reusable respirator, like for asbestos/lead paint removal.Published in