Living with masks: FAQS and the best material

Living with masks: FAQS and the best material

Sweet St. Martin land and our neighbouring islands have all but defeated COVID-19 for now – after tough measures – with only sporadic cases showing up over the past couple of weeks. However, governments rightfully continue to urge caution, and the borders are soon opening up to international travel.

With the threat of a second wave looming over all places that are in the same position, and seeing ominous warnings internationally of what happens when lockdown measures are eased too quickly, having everyone wear masks in public (in combination with other measures) is essential for staving off the virus.

Sick of hearing about masks and precautions? Well, we’re all sick of lockdown and the grave economic repercussions it brings. So, let’s all get with the programme.

First, a few common questions and misunderstandings and then the good part – what makes for a great homemade/fabric mask.

Who is protected?

Masks, except for the types worn almost exclusively by medical professionals (such as the N95), do not block the virus, once in the air, from passing through and infecting the person wearing the mask.

Instead, they stop you (a possible carrier) from spraying the virus into the air in the first place – when you sneeze, cough, laugh or speak. That’s why having the public wear masks – once it’s known that the virus has already spread locally – can hinder it from spreading further.

That’s also why it does not make sense to tell someone that if they are scared of being infected, they should be the ones wearing masks.

Reality check on the hypoxia/hypercapnia misinformation (from the World Health Organisation)

“The prolonged use of medical masks (also known as surgical masks) when properly worn, does not cause CO2 intoxication nor oxygen deficiency.

“The prolonged use of medical masks can be uncomfortable. However, it does not lead to CO2 intoxication or oxygen deficiency. While wearing a medical mask, make sure it fits properly and that it is tight enough to allow you to breathe normally. Do not re-use a disposable mask and always change it as soon as it gets damp.”

How about wearing a mask while exercising (from the World Health Organisation)

“People should not wear masks when exercising as masks may reduce the ability to breathe comfortably: Sweat can make the mask become wet more quickly which makes it difficult to breathe and promotes the growth of microorganisms. The important preventive measure during exercise is to maintain physical distance of at least one metre from others.”

Best materials for homemade masks!

Before getting into the details, any mask is better than no mask, so no need to wait on perfection.

Rigorous testing, known as particulate filtration, was carried out by Wake Forest Baptist Health, in an effort to narrow down the best types of homemade masks in light of the current pandemic. Some 400 masks, made by community volunteers, were tested. The team found that their effectiveness “varied widely”. More details on the project will be shared in the next edition of Health & Beauty.

“The best homemade masks achieved 79% filtration as compared to surgical masks (62% to 65%) and N95 masks (97%),” said Scott Segal, M.D., and chair of anaesthesiology at Wake Forest Baptist, who conceived of the idea.

“The best-performing design was constructed of two layers of high-quality, heavyweight ‘quilter’s cotton’ with a thread count of 180 or more, and those with especially tight weave and thicker thread such as batiks. A double-layer mask with a simple cotton outer layer and an inner layer of flannel also performed well.”

However, others “performed significantly worse, sometimes demonstrating as little as 1% filtration.” These “consisted of single-layer masks or double-layer designs of lower quality, lightweight cotton.”