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Masks and the Fourth Wave of the Coronavirus Pandemic

Masks and the Fourth Wave of the Coronavirus Pandemic

The new strain of the coronavirus has brought forth a fourth wave of the pandemic which is currently terrifying different parts of the world as new cases surge internationally and the death toll rises to an all-time high. We can see this for ourselves in states such as Oregon and Washington[1]. In fact, Oregon was also shown to have the biggest jump in the number of cases of the Covid-19 in all of America.

This situation can be attributed to the evolution of the covid-19 strain, as the symptoms have evolved from simple pneumonia to now affecting other parts of the body such as the lungs, the brain, and even the heart[2]. Furthermore, while the coronavirus was initially deadly to senior citizens and immunocompromised people mainly, younger people are now swiftly joining the ranks. Hospitals have seen the number of cases surge in young people in their 20s and even children[3]. While people are being injected with the vaccine more frequently and nearly half the population in the USA has had at least one dose, there is no guarantee that we are all safe from the virus even now.

While being injected by the vaccine is absolutely worthwhile, we need to enforce another layer of defense during our daily lives and that can be done with the help of a surgical mask.

Recently the use of cloth masks has increased significantly in public areas. Cloth masks are used often because people find it easier to reuse them. They can also be sported more fashionably than surgical or N95 masks for sale. However, in light of the new strain of the virus, cloth masks ideally need to take a backseat.

Statistically speaking, cloth masks have been proven to be inferior as compared to surgical masks[4], with respect to filtration, fit, and effectiveness. Naturally, your best option to get optimum protection from the virus would be with the help of surgical masks or N95 respirators. Cloth masks must always be used as a last resort, in case medical masks are not available. The difference between cloth masks and surgical masks are the following:

Fit: Surgical masks are generally loose-fitting but can adhere closely to most people’s face contours because of their shape and the flexible pin on the nose, which can be adjusted according to everyone’s face.

Cloth masks, on the other hand, are usually not as adaptable to all face types and often have large gaps, especially on the sides, which does not guarantee enough protection.

Effectiveness: Surgical masks are 3 or 4-ply, which means that there are three to four layers of protective covering that particles have to pass through, which maximizes efficiency.

Cloth masks sometimes come with filters but they do not provide as much effectiveness as surgical masks.

Beyond cloth masks and surgical masks, we have the N95 mask respirators which are the gold standard[5] for protection against viruses. 

References

  1. O'Sullivan J. Inslee: Washington has entered its fourth wave of COVID-19 [Internet]. Seattle Times. 2021 [cited 23 April 2021]. Available from: https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/politics/inslee-washington-has-entered-its-fourth-wave-of-covid-19/
  2. Rastogi YR, Sharma A, Nagraik R, Aygün A, Şen F. The novel coronavirus 2019-nCoV: its evolution and transmission into humans causing global COVID-19 pandemic. International Journal of Environmental Science and Technology. 2020 Oct 2;17:4381-8.
  3. Ogimi C, Englund JA, Bradford MC, Qin X, Boeckh M, Waghmare A. Characteristics and outcomes of coronavirus infection in children: the role of viral factors and an immunocompromised state. Journal of the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society. 2019 Mar;8(1):21-8.
  4. Chughtai AA, Seale H, Macintyre CR. Effectiveness of cloth masks for protection against severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. Emerging infectious diseases. 2020 Oct;26(10).
  5. Regli A, Sommerfield A, von Ungern‐Sternberg BS. The role of fit testing N95/FFP2/FFP3 masks: a narrative review. Anaesthesia. 2021 Jan;76(1):91-100.