Of course, stores are sold out of both surgical and N95 masks, which means that homemade masks are the only option remaining for many of us. Even hospitals are using and requesting homemade fabric masks that’s how bad this shortage is. Although none of the above research applies to fabric masks, there is a little bit of research on this topic.
An important thing to keep in mind is that every cloth will have a different weave, which allows larger or smaller particles to pass through. As you might imagine, researchers find that N95 respirators are more effective than cloth at preventing small particles from passing through. However, fabric masks might be comparable to some surgical masks.
Aren’t viruses so small that they can pass through a face mask?
If Covid-19 was floating in the air, free of fluid, it would be around 100 nano meters in size. N95 respirators can only filter out 95% of particles sized 100-300 nano meters. Surgical masks offer even less protection. So the answer is yes viruses can technically pass through both types of face mask. But will they? That is less certain. When a person coughs, the droplets are typically somewhere between 8,000-100,000 nano meters in diameter. *Aerosols, the smallest respiratory droplets, are only estimated to comprise 0.00024% of the total volume of liquid expelled during a cough. Most droplets, especially the large ones, will quickly settle and end up on surfaces. The smaller droplets stay in the air longer but are still large enough that a properly fitted N95 mask could filter them out, since N95 masks are 99.5% effective against particles sized 750 nano meters or bigger.
Since most virus-containing fluid will end up on surfaces, it remains important to wash our hands regularly and avoid touching our faces when in public. One of the strongest arguments in favor of both surgical and N95 masks is that they help prevent us from touching our faces with dirty hands when used correctly. Face masks might offer some protection from airborne viruses in droplets, especially if the droplets that carry them remain a large-enough size. But if you are in a dry climate and the liquid evaporates before the droplets can settle, Covid-19 might end up in a droplet that is too small to be filtered by a face mask. Also, researchers have warned that SARS could be personalized (made into a very tiny droplet) by neutralizer therapy and CPAP machines, which would help it penetrate face masks. This warning might be important for hospitals and nursing homes.
Decreasing the demand for face masks was a valuable strategic choice at the beginning of this pandemic. But public demand no longer threatens the medical supply since neither the public nor hospitals have access to new face masks. That is why it’s now time to switch gears and discuss the benefits of face masks instead of the negligible risks. Let’s talk about why its urgently necessary to put face masks on our medical workers, even if all we can offer them are our homemade masks. And then let’s talk about us.