The SARS-CoV-2 or the coronavirus that causes the COVID-19 disease is extremely contagious and has attained pandemic proportions within just 100 days of its discovery. The discovery happened in December of 2019 in the city of Wuhan, capital of Hubei province in China. Before this, the virus and its disease were unknown to the world.

Considering that the virus spreads rapidly and primarily attacks the respiratory system, it became necessary to find ways to protect yourself from being infected, and to protect others if you are suspected of being infected. Wearing of the COVID-19 face mask has, therefore, become mandatory.

The coronavirus being a virus that primarily attacks the respiratory system, a face mask becomes a very important part of the personal protective equipment (PPE).

It covers your nose and the mouth, which are the only two points of entry into your respiratory system and protects you from being infected by the coronavirus that can be coughed out or sneezed out into the air.

You should know that the airborne mode of transmission is the main mode through which the coronavirus spreads.

The function of the coronavirus mask is two-fold:

  1. It protects healthy wearer from being infected by the COVID-19 virus. For full protection, it requires medical-grade respirator masks, a properly fitting mask, and the right method of putting on and taking off the mask. National Jewish Health explains it well.
  2. It prevents virus transmission from an infected wearer to a healthy person.

Besides following other protocols, the wearing of the mask becomes the primary protection weapon against SARS-CoV-2 and an important part of the personal protection equipment (PPE).

For people who are more at risk, following every protocol for protection from the virus should be considered mandatory. This is not just for you but also for those close to you that you may infect.

Another important point to note is that the virus is most infective when the infected person is asymptomatic because of the prolonged incubation period. About 50% of the cases infected are through asymptomatic carriers.

Therefore, try to follow protective protocols and wear the facemask at all times.

Masks are contraindicated in

  • babies under 2 years of age
  • people who are unconscious
  • people who have trouble breathing
  • people who have trouble removing the mask on their own

What type of masks are available?

There are three types of masks that you can access for the purpose of protecting yourself from getting infected with the coronavirus.

  • Homemade cloth facemask
  • Surgical mask
  • N95 respirator

First of all, always wash your hands with soap and water before wearing the mask and again after you have removed the mask.

Research shows that just cotton made masks drastically reduces the virus particles emitted out in the air by an infected person – by as much as 99%.

This drastic reduction in the emitted particles that may be infective dramatically reduces the chances of a healthy person from being infected. Secondly, even if infected, the lower viral load increases the chance of the person contracting only a mild infection.

Homemade cloth facemask

A homemade cloth facemask is a mask made from any fabric but with multiple layers. For example, a handkerchief folded in a triangular fashion will have four layers and you can conveniently use it to cover your nose and mouth.

Everyone should always use such a mask while venturing out of the house. This will protect you in public places where it may not be possible to practice social distancing.

Such masks are enough to protect you from the coughed out and sneezed out droplets of people who could be infected. You should wash these masks with soap and water after every use.

Remove them by untying from behind the ears. Do not touch the front side of the mask. Wash your hands with soap and water after removing the mask.

Protection with such masks is limited. Social distancing and proper personal hygiene are the keys.

The purpose of using the homemade mask is to leave the surgical masks and N95 for healthcare professionals because they need to wear them more because of their high-risk job. If everyone started using them, it will create a severe shortage.

Surgical masks

Surgical masks are disposable and should be disposed off after one wear. When worn, they cover your nose, mouth, and chin. They are pleated, which helps to spread them over the face.

They help to contain the spread of corona in two ways:

  • Protects the wearer from inhaling the droplets in the air that have been coughed or sneezed out by the infected person
  • Contains the coughed out infected droplets within the mask worn by the infected person

The masks are provided with elastic bands that are worn behind the ears or plain ribbons that are tied behind the head to hold the mask in place.

One problem with this mask is that it is loose and with gaps between the face and the mask, the possibility of the infected droplets getting in or going out cannot be ruled out.

N95 respirators

An N95 respirator mask is usually circular or oval in shape and fits tightly on your face. It is designed to filter out 95% of small particles including bacteria and viruses.

The advanced ones have an exhalation valve, which helps you to breathe and get rid of heat and humidity that can build up.

There are sizes available and you get to choose one that fits and seals your face for better protection.