BY PASHKO CAMAJ/
In the last couple of months, we have been introduced to new words and phrases that will surely remain with us for a while. Words such as ‘covid-19,’ ‘flatten the curve,’ ‘antibodies,’ ‘underlying conditions’ and many others have become part of our every-day vocabulary. So, as we start the new phase of returning to ‘normal’ daily activities, we must continue the practices that helped reduce the risk to acceptable levels in the first place. To that end, we have all become familiar with the meaning of phrases “social distancing” and “facial covering.” With a goal of reducing the risk of exposure to the virus, here is some important information that we can all use as we continue to fight this invisible enemy.
Social Distance: A distance between individuals where the risk of droplets of saliva being transmitted from one individual to another is negligible. According to the US Center for Disease Control (CDC), the distance for the prevention of transmitting Covid-19 at 6 feet (1.8 meters).
Facial Covers: Facial covers are considered adequate if they cover an individual’s nose and mouth that can significantly reduce the transmission of droplets from these orifices onto a surface or another individual. They include medical grade masks to homemade masks. We are learning that the viral transmission via cough, sneeze or speaking (especially loud speech) are the primary vehicles of transmission. So, while continuing our handwashing and basic hygiene, we may get far better protection by continued social distancing and using facial covers. Both have been shown to reduce the probability of being exposed in the first place, but even if exposed, they reduce the ‘time’ and ‘concentration’ of exposure. This is to say, we may fare much better if exposed to 10 virus-containing droplets instead of 1,000 of them!
There are two kinds of this protective gear: medical-grade masks and nonmedical face coverings. Medical-grade masks include disposable surgical face masks and N-95 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. Tight-fitting N-95 respirator masks are designed to filter smoke, small particles, and airborne viruses. Nonmedical face covers include reusable cloth masks, bandanas and scarves, and are used in the same way as a surgical mask, to protect you against large particles and respiratory droplets. However, this kind of protective covering must be cleaned between uses and is generally not used in a medical setting.
Some Air Transmission Science: Recent studies suggest that face coverings cut the forward distance travelled by a person’s exhale by more than 90% – meaning how far your breath travels after it leaves your mouth or nose. While face coverings do not filter out particles in the same way an N-95 mask does, they are now recommended as an effective way of slowing the spread of the coronavirus, especially among people who have the virus, but are asymptomatic.
The Bottom Line: If worn correctly and combined with other virus prevention methods, face covers such as surgical face masks, N-95 respirators and even home-made face coverings can help lower the risk of spreading viruses. Bear in mind that non-medical face coverings are only effective against spreading the virus if you continue to take social distancing measures and basic hygiene seriously.
So, the answer to the question is both, continue the social distancing as a good practice of keeping us safe, but if you can, supplement it with facial covers.