Why do we wear masks?
- Covid-19 is transmitted by virus-containing droplets generated when you are breathing, speaking, singing, shouting, coughing, and sneezing. Covid-19 can remain viable in the air for as long as 16 hours and travel as far as 16 feet as small droplets. Surgical masks and N-95 respirators both cut down the distance Covid-19 contaminated aerosols can travel by half.
- Research in many locations have demonstrated that wearing masks correctly is an effective way to reduce the spread of the virus.
When and how do we wear masks at Keene State?
- Keene State College requires face covers to be worn inside buildings on campus as well as in outdoor areas where social distancing is not possible. “Mask discipline“ refers to how a face covering is worn and plays a significant role in affecting the effectiveness of a face covering. If a face-covering does not have the correct fit (i.e. covering the wearer’s chin, nose, and tight to the face), the ability for the mask to stop particles is severely decreased.
What kind of face mask is best for protecting myself and others?
- Both N-95 respirators and surgical masks are more effective than single-use masks and cloth or homemade masks. High-grade masks such as N-95 and surgical masks provide twice as much protection as the lesser options.
- However, both KN95 and N95 masks require more effort to breathe than surgical masks. Our experience is that wearing these masks tires you out more quickly. For this reason, if you notice that wearing N95 masks cause excessive fatigue or breathing problems, we recommend that you switch to a 3 ply surgical mask.
Further technical questions about masks at Keene State can be addressed to Ralph Stuart at firstname.lastname@example.org
Campus Questions about masks
I like to wear reusable cloth face masks because I hate wasting the disposable ones, plus I find the ear loop always breaks on me. Are any cloth masks with equal effectiveness to the surgical ones? I don’t really want to wear a surgical mask under the cloth mask because there is still the waste issue.
No; cloth masks have mechanical limitations that prevent them from being as effective as the plastic surgical masks, even when they are new. And as cloth masks are washed and reworn the cloth fibers get stretched and deformed and become less effective at controlling the movement of covid sized particles. That is the engineering answer.
In addition, the CDC published a report with the epidemiological answer which includes the graphic above. The figure shows the reduction in Covid transmission rates in California in 2021 based on mask wearing practices. Surgical masks aren’t gigantically better than cloth masks, but there is a difference.
I have had the same experience with regard to the surgical strap masks failing at annoying rate. The N95s and KN95s we have are better made and have that problem at a much lower rate. However, those masks require a lot more effort to breathe and may not be appropriate if you are physically active while wearing the mask. So disposable surgical masks are the best balance between usability and protection that is currently available, despite the irksome problem of mask wastes.
I understand that the virus is 40 microns and the masks will only stop 80 microns and above. I think masks are unnecessary.
While single virus particles may be as small as 40 microns, when they are airborne, they are attached to larger particles which masks can effectively filter out. In addition, by breathing through a mask, you are slowing the velocity of the air coming out of your mouth and nose, so that any escaping virus laden particles do not travel as far. The data from California mentioned above does not tell us which of these factors is most important in the effectiveness of masks in control Covid transmission, but the data does indicate that they are an important factor in protecting your self and others from the virus.