There is no magic bullet to contain the spread of Covid-19 in the New York Metro Area. Medical experts anticipate a combination of herd immunity - 60% to 80% of the population have antibodies, a safe and effective coronavirus vaccine and ongoing hygienic practices, including wearing masks, to bring the virus under control. Whether we like it or not, masks are here to stay in the near future, especially in at-risk populations such as seniors in Westchester, Nassau, and Fairfield County, CT.
In July, The Journal of Hospital Infection published a study showing the ability of a variety of mask materials to protect a person from infection after 30 seconds and after 20 minutes of exposure in a highly contaminated environment. Researchers compared wearing masks to wearing no protection during 20-minute and 30-second exposures to the virus and found that infection risks were reduced by 24-94% or by 44-99% depending on the mask and exposure duration.
Other conditions that impact risk of infection with or without a mask are:
- The number of people around you and their distance from you,
- The more time a person spends in an environment where the virus is present, the less effective a mask becomes.
“Even if we have access to a vaccine next year, seniors and other vulnerable populations in Westchester and Fairfield Counties are still going to have to wear a mask and social distance. But remember, while a mask can contain small droplets from someone’s mouth and/or nose when they talk, sneeze or cough, your risk increases the longer you're exposed to them. Don’t think that just because you are wearing a mask, you now can spend two hours visiting friends in a confined space,” said Barbara Moran, RN, Director of Patient Care at STEPS Home Care.
Types of Masks and Their Effectiveness
N99 andN95 Professional Respirator Masks are considered medical devices by the FDA and are made to prevent exposure to tiny virus droplets that are suspended in the air. The number rating means that the mask can block about 95-99 percent of particles that are 0.3 micrograms in size or larger. Health care workers who wear them undergo a fit-test to find the right make, model and size to ensure a tight seal. N99 and N95 masks are the most efficient at filtering airborne particles as they can reduce average risk by 94-99% for 20-minute and 30-second exposures. Beware of fake N95 masks being sold.
Surgical masks are the blue disposable masks, are fluid resistant and provide some protection against larger respiratory droplets in the air. They do not have a tight seal. Surgical or procedural masks provide protection against influenza and other respiratory viruses. They can not be washed and must be disposed of after use.
Cloth Masks with Multi-layers and cloth filter masks are good as long as the masks are multilayered. Doctors interviewed agreed that multiple layers of thicker, tightly woven quilting cotton, or a layer of thinner cotton plus an inner layer of flannel, may be the most effective at filtering out small virus-size particles. Some people buy or create masks with a pocket inside to hold a filter, such as a coffee filter. Surprisingly, vacuum cleaner filters, which can be inserted into filter pockets in cloth masks were also found to reduce infection risk by 83% for a 30-second exposure and 58% for a 20-minute exposure. When using other materials to make your own filter, such as unused vacuum cleaner bags, HEPA furnace filters, HVAC anti-allergy filters or other air filters, make sure you sandwich the filter between at least two layers of fabric to cut down on the risk of inhaling potentially harmful fibers from these materials.
Non-traditional materials. Researchers in this study evaluated other materials including tea towels, cotton-blend fabrics and antimicrobial pillowcases, which were the next best for protection. The denser the fibers of a material, the better it is at blocking the virus. That's why higher thread counts lead to higher efficacy. But some masks (such as those made from silk) also have electrostatic properties, which can attract smaller particles and keep them from passing through the mask as well. While cloth masks are not medical-grade, they are helpful in non-patient settings to contain coughs and to remind people to not touch their face, but they are not suitable for providing medical care to patients.
Do Not Use Scarves and Cotton T-shirts, which are only slightly better than wearing no mask at all, they found.
Future Masks on the Market
Good news on the horizon as companies are working on new mask prototypes. Scientists at MIT have created a reusable face mask to replace the N95. Made of silicone, it's reusable, durable, easily cleaned and clear, which will could ease communication. The two small N95 filters can be thrown out after each use (much less waste).
Where to Purchase Masks
Online and Locally
New York Magazine interviewed Doctors, Nurses and Dentists to find out what type of masks they were purchasing for themselves.
Local Greenwich resident Patrice Anibal sews beautiful masks and sells them for $10 each, giving a percentage of the profit to the CT Food Bank. She has over 60 different fabrics to choose from.