Everywhere you turn, restaurants, store owners and others are mandating the usage of protective masks by patrons. But, are they actually necessary, or is this just an ineffective attempt at trying to contain something that has already spiraled wildly out of control?

The Effectiveness of Mask Wearing

There are multiple studies that show that wearing a mask in public does, indeed, lower your risk of contracting COVID-19, along with other harmful viruses. 

The Coronavirus, otherwise known as COVID-19, is a disease that broke out in 2019 and was first discovered affecting citizens of Wuhan, China. The outbreak is believed to have first been contracted from animals, but is now being passed between humans. 

Coronavirus is most often spread through droplets in the air as vapor, and can be acquired multiple ways including standing too close to a person who has coughed or sneezed. For this reason, the mandate has been set forth for individuals to remain 6-feet apart or more, and it is recommended that individuals wear masks while in public. 

According to the CDC, or Center for Disease Control, cloth masks act as a protective agent to keep vapors from passing between people. This isn’t to say that cloth masks are fool-proof. Most cloth masks, especially those made at home, aren’t filtering masks, meaning they won’t be able to sift small particles from the air you breathe the way that other masks could. Nevertheless, they are an effective means for blocking large particles in the air, and as such, they should be worn by abiding citizens everywhere, whenever possible. 

Is There Any One Mask That Is More Effective Than Another?

Although cloth masks are effective at blocking large particles, there are certain career fields and professions that will require the use of something with greater filtering abilities. In this case, N-95 masks are often utilized, especially within the medical field. Common citizens may also obtain N-95 masks for their own personal use, when available.

N-95 masks work as a means of filtering 95% of particles in the air, excluding dangerous chemical gasses and vapors. They are often utilized to filter out common disease-causing microbes for those working in close proximity to others who might be infected.

Are There Other Ways That I Can Help Stop the Spread?

Despite various obligatory standards regarding face masks, this is not the only, or even the most effective, way to battle against a virus or illness, such as COVID-19. 

This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t wear a mask, but rather that you should, along with following other precautionary measures to keep yourself and others protected.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, or NIOSH, asserts that there is a “Hierarchy of Control” that can be implemented to keep airborne transmissions of microbes at bay. According to this model, the best thing you can do to guard yourself and others is to physically remove the hazard if possible. Second, is to replace the hazard with something else. Third, is to isolate people from the hazard, as is what happened with nationwide lock-downs, and fourth is to change the way that people work. Lastly, is to utilize protective personal equipment, such as masks, whenever possible. 

By utilizing a few, or as many of these methods as we can, we can significantly lower our risk of being exposed to potentially deadly or harmful contaminants. 

Hand Washing

One of the final and most effective ways to guard against viruses such as COVID-19, is to wash your hands, both thoroughly and frequently. Frequent handwashing has the ability to destroy germ-causing bacteria on your hands, including bacteria that leads to the Coronavirus. As such, hand washing is imperative to good health. 

In order to ensure effectual hand washing, studies show that it isn’t the type of soap you use, but how long you use it. Be sure to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds to ensure that you’ve killed all disease-causing bacteria. 

If soap and water aren’t available to you, go ahead and reach for hand sanitizer, but be careful. Hand sanitizer isn’t as effective as washing with soap and water, and as such, should be used sparingly, or not at all, if there is clean water and soap, available.

If you do opt to use hand sanitizer, be sure it contains at least 60% alcohol, and be sure to use plenty of it, covering all surfaces of your hands, before allowing it to air dry for 10-15 seconds. 

By following these handwashing and sanitizing protocols, in combination with other interventions mentioned prior, you will greatly decrease your risk of becoming infected with the serious and life-threatening illnesses on the rise.

Let Safety Reign Supreme

Although you may view wearing a mask as a hassle, it is important to note that doing so will not only protect yourself, but will also protect those around you. Remember, there are some who physically cannot wear a mask, including those under the age of two and those who have particular breathing impairments, who will be depending on you to do your part to help reduce the spread. 

Along with wearing a mask, consider implementing isolation techniques when needed, practicing social distancing methods when out and utilizing proper handwashing protocol as we, as a nation, embark on the journey back to better health.