If you’re still wearing the mask you got last spring, chances are you’re overdue for an upgrade.
That’s partly because we now know more about how the virus spreads – through smaller aerosol particles that can hang in the air and be expelled just from breathing, for example, in addition to the larger particles spread through talking, coughing, or sneezing. More important this month is the urgency of reducing the spread of the more transmissible variants, which requires a higher level of protection.
Recommendations from official Canadian sources have been slow and sometimes vague. But the consensus now is that your mask should have at least three layers, with one of those being a replaceable filter. Two of the layers should be tightly-woven fabric, such as cotton or linen; the filter should be non-woven polypropylene, such as a reusable shopping bag. A coffee filter is another alternative.
The United States Centre for Disease Control this week issued new mask guidance suggesting two methods to increase protection. One is to improve the fit of a single surgical mask by knotting the ear loops and tucking in the sides close to the face. The second is to wear a double mask, with a cloth mask over top a disposable surgical one.
Equally important is that the mask fits properly, snug around the chin and nose so that no air escapes.
For some simple guidance from a local source, click here for a short video from Dr. Samir Gupta, a respirologist at St. Michael’s Hospital. Toronto Public Health emphasizes the importance of a mask being both snug and comfortable. So, while an N-95 masks mask might technically offer the most protection, they are designed for health professionals and should be “fit-tested” to offer full protection. And they are uncomfortable if worn for long periods, prompting wearers to fuss with them, creating new risks if, for example, a virus on the outside of the mask gets on your fingers and then you touch your eyes.
For some people, wearing a double mask can also be uncomfortable or create breathing difficulty. And a small number have medical reasons for not wearing any mask.
If we all stayed at home or wore a hazmat suit when we’re in contact with others, the virus would disappear in two weeks. Because that’s not possible, intelligent mask wearing, combined with proper distancing, can be the next best thing.