Stone Age Doc’s Pandemic Perspective #1

This is the first weekly blog post that will address issues regarding COVID-19 that are not obvious from the usual news sources. This week’s post will discuss face masks; next week I’ll cover fomites (doorknobs, etc.) and fitness.

Face masks

Sometimes referred to as respirators, they are of two main types, surgical and N95. Surgical masks, the flat cloth or paper types, are worn to keep the surgeon from depositing secretions from the mouth and nose into the operative site. They do offer some protection from incoming germs such as the current coronavirus but not as well as N95 masks. These are stiff, rounded, paper-like devices with a metal clip that can be molded to fit more tightly over the nose. Some designs, referred to as surgical N95s, are more protective than simpler types. Although they are not usually reusable some persons cover them with a cloth mask that can be disposed of so that the the N95 can be worn for a longer period.

The designation N95 indicates that they will filter 95 percent of particulate material in the environment. That still leaves five percent of particles – or germs – that will get through. The longer the mask is worn the less protective it is. Some medical experts claim that the main advantage of the N95 mask is to prevent the wearer from touching his or her face, which most of us do unconsciously scores of times a day.

How many will each person in your family need until the COVID-19 crisis has passed, considering that you are not likely to get more than one day’s use from them, especially the cheaper ones? And the cost? It ranges from about $2.00 to $24.99 on Amazon. What does that tell you about the quality of the cheapest ones? And by the way, if you order them today, delivery time ranges from April 10th to June 19th – and I only checked out a handful of offerings. “Available now” only means that they are in stock, usually from China.

Don’t expect to find them locally. They are even more scarce than toilet paper!

N95 masks are uncomfortable. I wear one when I use bug spray around the house. That takes only about an hour but it’s pretty wet on the inside by the time I finish. And that metal piece that squeezed down over your nose begins to hurt in just a few minutes.

One other thing: you also need to wear surgical gloves when you wear a face mask. You’ll be touching and adjusting it a lot and those viruses on the outside will get on your fingers, and then transferred to anything else you touch.

And unless you’re also wearing goggles you might still become infected. Many infectious agents enter the body via the eyes.

Bottom line: wear a mask if you are in the presence of an infected person but don’t expect to be fully protected.

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