We are all doing our best to stay socially distant and that is awesome. Some of us may be going a little bit stir crazy indoors, including me. I could watch the endless stream of Coronavirus news, check my online newsfeed about Coronavirus, read blogs and social media about same virus, or chat online with my children about the same………..There are only so many around the house tasks that can be accomplished and it’s still too cold to do much garden work here on the first day of spring. The dog is tired of being walked so much and DOES NOT understand social distancing.
Beyond hibernating at home, we all wonder what should we do to protect ourselves. In the news I am hearing a lot about N95 masks being the only type of acceptable mask for protecting medical workers. I HAVE ABSOLUTELY NO INSIDE INFORMATION, MEDICAL OR PROTECTIVE GEAR KNOWLEDGE – but I am curious about what we the people should use if we need to protect ourselves if we DON’T HAVE N95 MASKS. What if one of my children – who has to work at a grocery store, doesn’t have a mask? Is there a substitute? His employer doesn’t supply masks – they don’t have enough – just some size medium gloves that didn’t fit. We sent him to work with some mismatched woodstaining gloves and a woodworking dust mask!
What should one of our other children, flying home next week from now-closed University wear?
We are told that “The Coronavirus is primarily spread via respiratory droplets from sneezes and coughs, so masks do decrease risk of infection.” So wouldn’t any coverage be better than no coverage?
In the news, the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) has been criticized and even ridiculed for recommending:
“HCP use of homemade masks:
In settings where facemasks are not available, HCP might use homemade masks (e.g., bandana, scarf) for care of patients with COVID-19 as a last resort. However, homemade masks are not considered PPE, since their capability to protect HCP is unknown. Caution should be exercised when considering this option. Homemade masks should ideally be used in combination with a face shield that covers the entire front (that extends to the chin or below) and sides of the face.“
This quotation has been taken out of context, because it comes at the tail end of a recommendation which speaks of in critical situations when there is no supply of the appropriate masks. This is an example of the news and social media jumping on a statement and taking it out of proportion.
My understanding is that governments and health care facilities have been ramping up the supply, ordering and production of N95 masks, and I feel that they are doing the best that they can. I know that it’s unlikely that I the common non-healthcare worker will get one anytime soon – so what about us?
Is the N95 mask foolproof and the only thing that will work? What is an N95 mask anyway? Why only N95 masks? So being stir crazy, I set about on a “Googlequest” to figure the whole thing out.
What is an N95 Mask?
Well, an N95 mask seems to look like the above. I had thought that with it being called a respirator in some articles, that it looked like a gas mask – but no it seems to be a soft layered mask with a nose fitting and elastics for around the face. THAT’S MY DESCRIPTION, not the definition…..
“N95 is an efficiency rating from the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH) that means the N95 mask filters out 95% of (N)on-oil particles larger than .3 microns (.00003 cm). The masks are commonly worn to protect users from dust while working and from air pollution in many large cities, most notably in China.” – source insidefirstaid.com
So it seems that N stands for Not resistant to oil, and 95 is the % of particles that it filters. There are higher % masks, and some are labelled R for oil Resistance, so an R100 mask would be one that is resistant to oil and filters 100% of particles greater than .3 microns – AGAIN I HAVE NO EXPERTISE HERE – just an old mom on a Googlequest.
So it seems to be shaped like my inexpensive wood sanding mask, and I have seen both white and blue N95 masks – but it doesn’t look quite as miraculously scientific as I thought.
My masks are described as Nuisance Dust masks. “Dust masks are not NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety) approved disposable filtering facepieces. They can be worn for comfort against non-toxic nuisance dusts during activities like mowing, gardening, sweeping and dusting.” They provide basic protection against non-toxic dust, pollen, mold, dander and various other common airborne irritants and shouldn’t be used in a setting that contains silica, asbestos and other harmful substances. “These masks are not respirators and do not offer protection against hazardous dusts, gases or vapors.” Mine has only one elastic, has a similar shape, but looks to have only one layer, and of course is not labelled as N95. N95 masks have multiple layers and some even have valves – but not all.
The non-expert mom here says concludes that more layers probably means more particles filtered and a snug fit with no gaps is best. That’s just common sense. My mask is a bit gappy – but if I pinch the metal nose piece it fits a bit better. Should we tape the thing on??
When I read through the studies of N95 masks vs. surgical masks, personally, I don’t find that they are the absolute best thing, and that worries me.
Wikipedia tells me that “A surgical mask, also known as a procedure mask, medical mask or simply as a face mask, is intended to be worn by health professionals during surgery and during nursing to catch the bacteria shed in liquid droplets and aerosols from the wearer’s mouth and nose. They are not designed to protect the wearer from inhaling airborne bacteria or virus particles and are less effective than respirators, such as N95 or FFP masks, which provide better protection due to their material, shape and tight seal.”
To me, it’s common sense that this looks like it gives pretty good facial coverage, and filters some particles, but looks thinner than an N95.
There was a major study of the N95 masks vs. surgical masks published in 2009. The study took place in 24 hospitals in Beijing looking at 1,936 health care workers. “Most participants were randomly assigned to wear surgical masks, fit-tested N95 masks, or N95 masks that were not fit-tested,” and wore the masks for every shift for four weeks during the cold and flu season. There was also a comparison group of hospitals workers who wore no masks or surgical masks. The study concluded that surgical masks were not effective, but that N95 masks were 56% effective against lab-confirmed respiratory viral infections and 75% protective against confirmed flu. The fitted N95 masks didn’t appear to provide more protection than unfitted N95 masks. This study was later retracted!!
A Canadian study evaluated and reviewed similar studies from 1990 to 2014. This study, published in 2016 in the Canadian Medical Association Journey concluded that: “Although N95 respirators appeared to have a protective advantage over surgical masks in laboratory settings, our meta-analysis showed that there were insufficient data to determine definitively whether N95 respirators are superior to surgical masks in protecting health care workers against transmissible acute respiratory infections in clinical settings.”
So it seems that more protection is better, but there is no definitive proof? So should we bother to use other masks if we don’t have N95s? A simple perusal of the internet tells me that people have been fashioning creations out of furnace filters, vaccuum hepa filters and Hanes T-shirt fabric! I’m sure there is a whole area of PINterest dedicated to this craft. AND why NOT?
If there is a chance that a home-made or lower standard mask will protect us somewhat from getting Coronavirus or spreading it, we shouldn’t feel self-conscious, or ridiculed about being creative in our facial wear should we? We certainly shouldn’t be making fun of others who are doing their best.
I would love to know the exact construction of an N95 mask! There are many links to surgical mask and banana sewing projects! This one is for a surgical mask – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eLOh8AoXvcI&feature=youtu.be Usually these projects involve sewing a fabric cover, with either elastic straps or ties, some sort of filter inserted in the fabric, and some sort of bendable wire to shape the nose cover. The fabric is typically 100% cotton, the filters range from purchased mask filters to paper towels, and the wire piece is often made from pipe cleaners.
I am inspired by these creative endeavors and am heading off now to search for my sewing machine. Stay safe and healthy at home if you can everyone!