• Beau Steward

Why Fabric Masks Can Be Effective In Preventing The Spread Of Illness

My last post was a rundown of PPE as I understand it. Much of the effective PPE is very difficult to find, and when you can find it, it's expensive, with so many companies price gouging. So there are many talented people making fabric masks. Some are giving them away, particularly to those who really need them. Others are selling them for a fairly wide range of prices. But they share something in common, mentioned in my previous post: they're minimally protective.

But they can still be effective, and that effectiveness could still be enough to help make opening our economy back up easier without risking so many lives.

A fabric mask is not going to protect you from infection originating from other people. It's been shown that fabric masks have a tendency to collect moisture which could be host to infectious materials. But a fabric mask should not be worn as self protection. Rather, you wear the mask to protect the people around you from you. That same problem that the mask will collect moisture becomes beneficial for protecting the people around you from you.

For these to be effective, though, people need to cooperate with each other on wearing masks.

Let's start with 2 people. Person 1 wears a fabric mask and person 2 wears no mask. Person 2 is protected from person 1, but not protected for other non-mask wearers. Person 1 is not protected from any non-mask wearer, including person 2. If person 2 starts wearing a mask, person 1 and 2 are protected from each other.

Bring in person 3, what happens? If person 3 does not wear a mask, he is protected from persons 1 and 2, but persons 1 and 2 are not protected from person 3. By now the solution should be obvious: person 3 should wear a mask. From that point, persons 1, 2, and 3 are protected from each other.

And this scales. If you have 10 people, and all 10 wear a mask, then you have 10 people protected from each other. If 9 of the 10 people wear a mask, then you have 9 vulnerable people.

Now don't get me wrong, the fabric mask will still protect you to some degree. One study showed a surgical mask is about 3 times more effective at protecting you from others than a fabric mask. That is to say, the fabric mask has some efficacy. It does reduce your chances of infection, just not as well as masks designed for the task at hand.

The conclusion that I hope to be drawn from this is an answer to the question of: Should I wear a mask? The answer should be yes. For everyone. COVID-19 can infect without symptoms. People can run a full course of infection, all the way down to creating antibodies and fighting it off, without ever having symptoms. Unlike other types of infection, such as SARS (from SARS-CoV-1), common cold, the flu, etc, you are contagious without symptoms. So don't assume you don't need one because you haven't been sick nor currently are not sick. You can still spread it.

My opinion is we will need face coverings until we have vaccines in wide use. We won't have a vaccine until sometime next year. So that means we are likely in this boat for the long haul. If you're going out to a place where other people will be, cover your face. Do so for the foreseeable future. Use anything you can get. You don't need N95 or surgical masks. Use a bandanna, or a shirt, or find someone you know that can sew to make you a mask. There are people on Etsy selling fabric masks, and should you come across a dishonest Etsy seller, they will protect you (I've already learned this myself).

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