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How Protective Are Surgical Masks During Covid-19?

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Surgical Mask

As the fight against the Covid 19 pandemic continues the question lingers on the appropriate masks to be worn; as social distancing and washing hands are not enough measures to curb the pandemic. Masks should be well worn to ensure that respiratory droplets are contained. Apparently the efficacy of masks is not clear and some masks are not recommended, so what makes a good mask?

The following are essential qualities of a good mask:

  • The mask should fit well.
  • It should contain 2-3 layers. This is to provide it with filtering efficiency.
  • It should seal properly around the nose and mouth and hence made with a wire or ridge to shape it around the nose.
  • It should allow you to breathe or you will not be comfortable wearing it for long periods of time
  • It is necessary that a mask has pleats and folds. When worn the folds expand and air flows through the fabric. They are necessary as they make the mask fit well and droplets do not get to leak out through gaps on the side.
  • They should be made of stretchable material. Tightly woven material such as cotton and cotton blends are ideal.

The Need For Masks

Masks do not provide 100% efficiency against infiltration of airborne particles but they supplement the other recommended measures. When removing a mask don’t touch the front part as it might contain respiratory droplets. A mask is effective when its edges are well sealed. Any mask can be used as long it covers adequately. Most people prefer cost efficient masks that they can reuse. If you are buying a mask or making one it is recommended that your mask is fitting and seals around your nose and mouth. It should also be comfortable allowing you to breathe. Ensure also that you wash and store it in a well-ventilated area. If buying a mask ensure it is recommended that it is regulated or certified. For example, N95 mask and surgical mask.

N95 masks trap at least 95% of airborne particles. Polypropylene is also recommended as an ideal material for making masks as it holds an electrostatic charge producing a cling that traps droplets, which are coming in and out. N95 masks are expensive and their supply is not always consistent. Surgical masks are also recommended as they adequately filter and contain respiratory droplets from the wearer, and they are also readily available and affordable.

Surgical Masks

Surgical masks are procedure medical devices that are meant for medical procedures to prevent doctors from expelling germs that could contaminate the patient. They are not adequate as respiratory protection devices yet they are essential so as to prevent the wearer from expelling droplets, not necessarily to keep respiratory droplets out.  Surgical masks also provide high filtration efficiency. They are not as tightly fitting as N95 masks and do not filter out tiny respiratory droplets but they provide a physical barrier from fluids, especially large respiratory particles.

Surgical masks are affordable, and in constant supply as compared to the N95 masks. Surgical masks can be used in nonsurgical instances as they meet PPE requirements. They have proper circulation and are recommended for people with breathing problems. In case you want to use the mask again, care should be taken by washing hands before removing the mask and storing it in a place with proper air circulation. A surgical mask has an inner layer that should absorb the droplets. The middle layer filters out airborne particles and it also has an outer layer of nonabsorbent material such as polyester and its blends. Ensure that your mask is well sealed to avoid air leaks. There should be no gap between the mask and skin.

The Effectiveness of Surgical Masks In The Covid-19 Pandemic

Surgical masks are not considered as effective as other masks and it is recommended that they are disposed of after use. FFP3 masks have a higher filtering capacity providing proper air filtering efficiency. Cloth masks can be more effective than surgical masks when they have a threefold structure to ensure protection from tiny droplets and particles.  The N95 provides the most efficiency as a respirator.

Why The N95 Is Recommended During Covid-19

The N95 is recommended because it has a high filtering capacity of air borne particles and droplets and it protects the wearer and those around them from respiratory droplets. It filters at least 95% of small particle aerosols from air breathed through it. When it is worn properly it reduces leakage around the edges of the respirator when they inhale, as air goes through the filter. Other masks do not provide an adequate barrier against droplets and respiratory particles. They also do not prevent leakage as efficiently as the N95 respirator.

Although the N95 tends to be in short supply and is not as cost efficient as other masks it is the most effective in filtering and providing a barrier to air particles. These masks are regulated differently from surgical masks.

 The following are the qualities of the N95 that make it efficient as a respirator:

  • It offers efficient filtration against airborne particles.
  • N95 is made of 6 layers. It has an inner layer that is made of cotton and it also has four other filtration layers.
  • It can be reusable and it offers protection against aerosols and respiratory droplets.
  • The edges are made to form a seal such that it fits properly around the nose and mouth

The N95 mask can be used for up to five times. A seal check is necessary to ensure that the mask fits adequately with each reuse. You should discard the respirator once it is damaged or breathing becomes difficult.

Covid-19 is here with us. The reality is that just coughing or sneezing could cause many problems during this period.  As the pandemic lingers it calls for more urgent measures to control the pandemic; the wearing of masks, washing hands, and social distancing are crucial. There is need for more information on how to contain the situation and other measures that could be efficient in this fight against Covid-19.

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