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Doubling Down on Masks to Prevent COVID-19

COVID Mask Protection
  • Published
  • 10 February 2021
  • Category
  • General

When you choose the right kind of mask and wear it correctly, risk of exposure to COVID-19 is reduced by about 96 percent, according to a study released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

People have lots of reasons for not wearing a mask. Maybe they already had COVID or have been vaccinated. A mask may feel uncomfortable, they want to breathe fresh air or their glasses steam up. Perhaps they don’t take exposure risk seriously or dislike being told what to do.

It seems there is no excuse, other than an underlying physical or mental health condition, for not wearing a mask that stands up to the CDC’s findings if we want to help expedite an end to the pandemic.

Masks block the passage of infected respiratory droplets and aerosols with varying degrees of effectiveness. Because widely used cloth masks and medical procedure (surgical) masks tend to fit more loosely than respirators (e.g., N95 or KN95 masks), it makes sense to try to fit them more snugly. By comparison, loosely fitted face coverings that can’t be adjusted, such as bandanas, provide minimal protection.

About the Mask Study

Last month the CDC conducted experimental simulations to assess two methods to improve mask performance: 1) double masking and 2) knotting and tucking the mask. (Refer to Figure 1 for an illustration). The first experiment simulated a person coughing to assess how effectively various masks block potentially infected particles. A pliable, elastomeric head form was used to simulate a person coughing by producing aerosols from a mouthpiece (0.1–7 μm potassium chloride particles). The second experiment assessed how effectively the two modifications to medical procedure masks reduced exposure to aerosols emitted while breathing.

Ten mask combinations, using various configurations of no mask, double masks, and unknotted or knotted and tucked medical procedure masks, were assessed. When the source and receiver were both fitted with double masks or knotted and tucked masks, the cumulative exposure of the receiver was reduced 96.4 percent and 95.9 percent, respectively. (Refer to Figure 2 for all of the findings.)

Researchers concluded that improving the fit of cloth and medical procedure masks to enhance their performance merits attention.

Workplace Practices

Fourteen states and Washington, D.C., have universal mask mandates. Masks must also be worn on federal property and by Americans while traveling on public modes of transportation. Regardless of their location, employers are advised to require employees to do the following to protect themselves, co-workers, family members and others in their communities as long as it is safe to do so:

  • Wear snugly fitted masks
  • Practice social distancing and avoid crowds
  • Stay home and get a diagnostic test if they suspect exposure or have symptoms
  • Practice good hygiene, e.g., frequent hand-washing, covering coughs

To achieve herd immunity against COVID-19, approximately 200 million Americans will need to be vaccinated or have been infected, says WorkCare’s Dr. Anthony Harris, who presents our  free weekly webinar on Preventing and Managing COVID-19 in the Workplace. (Refer to WorkCare’s YouTube channel for all recorded sessions, including today’s talk on masks.) To date, about 44.4 million vaccine doses have been administered to Americans out of 138 million doses worldwide, and about 27.2 million cases have been reported in the U.S., according to vaccine and case rate trackers. Herd immunity it still quite a ways off.

Meanwhile, the degree of length of immunity associated with having had COVID or being vaccinated against it is not yet known. The COVID-19 vaccine will be administered on an annual basis, similar to seasonal influenza shots, until other options become available.

Wearing a mask is a low-cost, non-invasive prevention measure that helps save lives.

 

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