As the winter surge is starting to run out of control, now is a good time to re-evaluate masks. At the beginning of the pandemic, there was a severe shortage of proper masks. As a result, people were encouraged to wear home-made cloth masks.
This wasn’t a bad idea at the time when little else was available. These masks are moderately effective at trapping the virus-laden droplets exhaled by someone infected. That helps protect others but offers much less protection for the wearer. But it was better than nothing at the time.
But at this point, there’s little reason to still be wearing home-made cloth masks. Commercial medical-grade masks are readily available and they are far more effective. Given the alternatives available, it’s foolish and dangerous to still be wearing cloth masks!
And masks absolutely work! There’s now a large body of evidence from field studies that show that areas with increased mask usage have reduced rates of community spread. Don’t let the grifters and the deniers convince of the lie that masks don’t work!
Categories of Masks
It’s also important to understand the distinction between protecting others if you’re the one infected versus protecting yourself from others.
We’ve seen the virus progress at about the rate of 1% of the population per month. That means that on any given day, 99 out of 100 people wearing a mask should be worried about how to best protect themselves from infection…especially from those who refuse to wear a mask or refuse to wear one properly.
So let’s talk about how different types of masks work for protecting the wearer.
The absolute worst are gaiters and they offer essentially no protection whatsoever, either for the wearer or to protect others. Single-layer cotton cloth masks are the worst and probably only about 20% effective at protecting the wearer.
Multi-layer cloth masks are better and ones made from polymer fibers and not natural fibers are even better. A 2-3 layer polyester mask will likely be about 40% effective.
The next step up is paper surgical masks. These come in a variety of categories and are generally rated as Level-1, Level-2, Level-3, or unrated. The higher “level numbers” are better masks. The lower-rated paper masks will generally be 50% effective or less and typically not better than wearing a multi-layer cloth mask.
Always try to find Level-3 surgical masks…they’re readily available. These will generally be 3 or 4 layers and will be 70% effective at protecting the wearer.
But the best masks are the N95 and specifically the medical-grade N95 masks that do not have a valve. The valve makes the mask completely ineffective at protecting others.
You’re just breathing all your germs directly onto whoever is in front of you. If that’s all you can find, then tape over the valve from the inside. The mask will work fine with the valve taped over and you’re now protecting others as well as protecting yourself.
N95 is a government standard enforced through the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health or NIOSH. It defines both how the mask has to be constructed and what testing standards it needs to meet.
There is also a KN95 standard. These are nominally the Chinese equivalent of the US N95 standard. But you should absolutely avoid ANY masks designated as KN95. These are Chinese made and are 100% guaranteed to be fraudulent and worthless. There are excellent N95 and KN95 masks being made in China, but currently, they’re all barred from export and being diverted to domestic use in China.
However, the Chinese government is happy to have counterfeit masks exported abroad and are making no efforts to block these worthless KN95 counterfeit masks.
But now for the really bad news. At the current time, almost the entire production of authentic N95 masks being manufactured in the US are being diverted into US government purchases and into the medical supply chain. None of these masks reach the US consumer market!
Almost all N95 masks currently available on the US consumer market are counterfeit Chinese manufactured masks. Including ALL the brand name masks like 3M. The masks are largely worthless, the branding, packaging, and certification documents are all forged.
Unfortunately, the US government has chosen to turn a blind eye and are freely allowing counterfeit and even branded masks to be imported into the US consumer market.
I know a guy in California who has a non-profit trying to source N95’s for nursing homes and hospices who don’t have access to the medical supply chain. His group has tested almost 8,000 domestically sources lots of N95 masks, including brand name 3M masks. 100% are either completely counterfeit or fail validation testing.
I’ve spent months trying to source N95 masks and have seen the same issues. However, I’ve recently discovered a solution to the problem. The South Korean government has its own version of the US N95 standard called KF94.
These masks are manufactured in South Korea and are required to undergo validation and oversight by the regulatory bodies in South Korea. And they’re readily available in the US consumer market.
Amazon carries several brands, but you have to search specifically for KF94. They won’t show up if you search for N95. They’re typically about $2.50 to $3 a unit, so cheaper than the counterfeit N95 masks. The deal is, almost no one in the US knows they even exist. I didn’t until a month ago.
Just make certain that you only buy ones actually manufactured inside South Korea!
Amazon AERX KF94
There’s also an EU standard called FFP2 that’s equivalent to the US N95 standard. Unfortunately, 100% of the FFP2 masks that I’ve been able to find in the US market are Chinese imported counterfeits. If you’re in the EU, it’s a good option, but in the US, I would absolutely avoid the FFP2 masks.
They’re completely worthless…unless you’re intubating a patient in an ICU and they’re spraying droplets directly in your face. Face shields are NOT a replacement for wearing a mask!
They ONLY help to keep direct droplet spray out of your eyes. They don’t even help to keep virus-laden aerosols out of your eyes. The aerosols just pass right around the mask and directly into your eyes. So unless you have an issue with people coughing directly into your face from less than 3-feet away…don’t waste your time and money on face shields.
But that’s not to say the concept is useless. You’re just as likely to get infected through your eyes as through your nose or mouth. If you have to be in a crowded area with people not wearing masks, then protecting your eyes is critical.
WileyX Sports Googles
But sports goggles can be very effective. And I’m not talking about bulky ski goggles. There are a couple of manufacturers of prescription sports goggles that look like ordinary glasses. They just have gaskets behind the frames that fit against your face.
You don’t need an airtight seal, just the ability to block normal airflow around the eyes. Zenni and WileyX are great manufactures. I prefer the WileyX goggles designed for skydiving. They look like normal glasses and are quite effective.
Quit wearing cloth masks
Order some KF94 masks from Amazon
At least get some Level-2 or Level-3 medical masks
Forget the Face Shields!
Get sports goggles to protect your eyes
Learn how to properly fit and wear a mask. It needs to be as tight against the face as possible. Good N95 masks are designed to seal against your face, but even the surgical masks can close fit to your face. A poorly fitting mask is really worthless.
Also, if you have to go into crowded areas where distancing just isn’t possible and people are refusing to wear masks, then I recommend double masking. Put an N95 mask on first and then put a Level-3 surgical mask on over the N95 mask. This will offer the best protection. But also wear goggles to protect your eyes. They’re just as vulnerable as your nose and mouth.
All this material is also available as an 8:40 minute video presentation:
About the author:
I am a scientist with 20+ years in the biotech industry. I currently work as a consultant with companies involved in developing molecular diagnostics platforms, including some of the key testing platforms used to detect the SarsCoV2 virus.
So I bring an insider’s perspective that is scientifically oriented but directed to a general audience trying to make sense of the conflicting stories surrounding the Covid pandemic.
To learn more: https://www.linkedin.com/in/dalewharrison/
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