Wearing a mask in public and the N95 shortage

Two weeks into coronavirus quarantine, the CDC put out an advisory for all people to wear masks when out in public. Even before this, people have been wearing the same jury-rigged surgical masks and hoarding filters for painting masks, but both of these share one thing in common, that the consensus on their protection from viral infections is mixed. The CDC describes COVID-19 as more efficient at spreading than the flu, but less than measles, like the flu it can be commonly transmitted by respiratory droplets, formed by breathing, talking, coughing, or sneezing.

The so commonly sought after N95 mask is specially designed, “The masks filter out contaminants like dust, mists, and fumes. The minimum size of .3 microns of particulates and large droplets won’t pass through the barrier” as described by Honeywell, that’s just the minimum for the mask to be given the “N95” rating by NIOSH, the National Institute of occupational safety and health, who tests masks to a 95 percent success rate. But since the CDC has sent out an announcement that those critical masks must be reserved for medical personnel, citizens have been creating their own respiratory protection.

In the beginning, several different entities were expressing their doubts on the effectiveness of any sort of mask, most famously the US Surgeon General Jerome Adams, when he tweeted, “Seriously people- STOP BUYING MASKS!”. The public, not reading the rest of his statement, and the link to the CDC website missed an important factor in his statement, COVID-19 is not airborne. The droplets mentioned earlier hang heavy in the air, and fall to floors and flat surfaces. The WHO director Michael J. Ryan described the best uses for masks in a conference earlier this month, “Its most benefit and right now the people most at risk from this virus are frontline health workers who are exposed to the virus every second of every day”. But as of recent, the best way to prevent contact with those infectious droplets is to minimize contact with the general public where possible, wearing a mask is second to the social distancing model in possible effectiveness. At this time the CUSD has issued no statement regarding the return to the school year, and if masks would play a role in that return.