With the imminent easing of the lockdown in the UK, following similar measures in Europe and the USA, the question of how to contain the spread of coronavirus and avoid a second deadly wave remains the priority of governments across the world.
While social distancing will be the cornerstone of the ‘new normal’, alongside good hygienic practices, such as washing hands and the use of hand sanitizers, the question on the use of face masks, at least in the UK, remains. Across Europe for example these are now mandatory. In Germany and Italy, people are asked to wear them outside, in all places and at all times. So it is very likely that maks will be mandatory for the foreseeable future.
The scientific evidence has been divided surrounding the use of face masks for a reasonable amount of time. While initially scientists and epidemiologists argued that outside highly advanced surgical masks in use in ICU, the now-famous surgical grade respirator N95, there was little to no scientific evidence that masks offered any protection and indeed did not curb the rise of contagion. Despite this, that opinion has shifted considerably as a result of more studies emerging on their role and importance in helping to ease the spread of the contagion. Furthermore, while at first scientists argued that only surgical masks were effective now there is an acceptance that home-made reusable face masks also offer protection and will help us resume our lives while stopping the spread of the deadly Covid-19.
So, now the question posed is, what kind of face mask will best protect you against coronavirus? What material is preferable? Are there any environmental health factors?
In a previous blog, I talked about the study at North-eastern University in the US on the use of home-made masks and their effectiveness, especially if combined with the use of a nylon stocking. Now new studies in the UK by the Royal Society and the CDC in the USA have also come to the conclusion that home-made face masks offer protection and should be used outside.
With some studies pointing out that the tight-fitting around the face remains crucial- the CDC suggests that any covering, even a bandana is better than nothing, however, which material is preferable is still open for discussion.
A study recently published by the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Centre investigated which household material would be better to remove particles of bacteria and viruses. The study concluded that vacuum cleaners bags, heavyweight quilter’s cotton, or multiple layers would be best effective. However, even scarves or bandana, despite being less effective were also recommended. Therefore, the scientific advice seems to be that a home-made face mask, preferably tight around the face and with multiple layers would be effective and a very valid alternative to the surgical masks.
There are also now very important benefits to the use of home-made, textile-based masks. First of all, surgical masks should be reserved for health professionals and for front-line workers. The shortage of PPE remains a real issue and the public is reminded not to stock on essential PPE such as face mask. Secondly, as we are approaching the summer, surgical masks make for uncomfortable wearing, especially in the summer heat. A textile mask will allow for better breathing and avoid irritation of the skin. Thirdly, there is a very significant environmental benefit to the use of reusable masks. According to an analysis recently published by UCL London, if every single person in the UK would use a surgical mask every day for a year, there would be an extra 66000 tons of contaminated waste making it to the landfill. So the use of reusable face masks would reduce this considerably and help us also in our fight for a cleaner and safer environment.
So, as we all wait for the latest directives in how to return to ‘the new normal’, it is safe to say that we should all be prepared for using reusable face masks in public. Lastly, always remember to wash them at high temperatures after every use.