*By: Dr. Pashko R. Camaj, Doctor of Public Health Sciences-
As the coronavirus continues to spread across the globe, one of the central questions in the fight to contain it has been: Do masks work? The simple answer is yes, face masks combined with other preventive measures, such as frequent hand-washing and social distancing, help slow the spread of the virus and keep us healthy. There is a common refrain that masks or face covers do not protect you, that they protect other people from your own germs. That is true, but we also know that masks can also protect you from viruses that may otherwise be in the air we breathe. So here is some useful information on protection that masks, and facial covers provide for you.
An obvious question is why were face masks not recommended by the public health officials at the start of the pandemic? There are a few factors that were involved in the decision: The legitimate concern that the limited supply of surgical masks and N95 respirators should be saved for health care workers. Another factor was that culturally, the U.S. was not really prepared to wear masks, unlike some countries in Asia where the practice is more common. But the most important factor was that at that time, public health experts did not fully know the extent to which people with Covid-19 could spread the virus before symptoms ever appeared. Viral infections such as seasonal flu are spread by symptomatic people. However, in the case of Covid-19, the virus can be spread by people in early stages of infection that do not have any symptoms. These discoveries led the public health groups to do an about-face on face masks. The World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now include use of face masks in their recommendations for slowing the spread of the virus.
So, masks and facial covers have become a part of our everyday life. They are essential for people to wear when they go out in public, such as to shop or go to social events, and when close to other people at the beach or park. They come in different shapes and colors. But in general, there are two kinds of this protective gear: medical-grade masks and nonmedical face coverings. Medical-grade masks include disposable surgical face masks and N95 respirators. Surgical face masks are used to block large particles and respiratory droplets (which are sent into the air when someone coughs or sneezes) from entering or exiting your mouth. Cloth masks are not the same as surgical masks or N95 respirator masks, which are used by medical workers at high risk for being exposed to the coronavirus. They may not prevent you from inhaling all particles that carry the coronavirus. But that does not mean it is not worth wearing one.
How masks protect us: The 2019 novel coronavirus is predominantly spread through viral droplets that come out of people’s mouths or noses when they cough, sneeze or talk. Cloth masks act as a physical barrier to keep large droplets from spewing out into the air, where someone else could breathe them in and become infected. Facial masks reduce the amount of virus you get exposed to. If you are unlucky enough to encounter an infectious person, wearing any kind of face covering will reduce the amount of virus that you may inhale. In toxicology, we have an adage, that ‘concentration and duration’ determines a toxicity. This is to say, how much of it and for how long we are exposed to a harmful agent. As it turns out, that is pretty important. Breathing in a small amount of virus may lead to no disease or far milder infection. Perhaps, that is one reason some infected people experience mild or no symptoms at all. But inhaling a large volume of virus particles can result in serious disease or death. Obviously, we also know that factors such as overall age and health condition of the person exposed to the virus will be determining factors in the outcome of the disease. Elderly and those with underlying health conditions have been hit the hardest with this infection.
In closing, combined with other virus prevention methods such as good hygiene and social distancing, face covers such as surgical face masks, N95 respirators and even home-made face coverings can help lower the risk of spreading the virus or becoming infected and keeping you healthy. So just do it!
**Vice President, Pan-Albanian Federation of Amerika “Vatra”