How Do Face Masks Work?
At the start of the pandemic, there were mixed messages on whether or not the public should be wearing face masks. This left many wondering if face masks work and why they should bother wearing one. The good news is, they do help protect us! While the guidelines for COVID-19 may be rapidly developing, and confusing us all, we can look to other well established healthcare guidelines to understand how face masks protect us from becoming infected and infecting others. So, what exactly do these masks do?
1. They keep your respiratory droplets from spreading to others!
The CDC outlines three transmission-based precautions to help stop the spread of various pathogens: contact, droplet, and airborne. A pathogen is the agent that causes a disease, and different pathogens use different methods to spread. Surgical masks are a key protective measure in droplet precautions and airborne precautions. Surgical masks are routinely used in healthcare settings to prevent the spread of infections such as influenza, pneumonia, and meningitis. In what the CDC terms “source control”, they outline that the infected individual should wear a mask to help prevent transmission.
Many viruses and bacteria, such as the ones previously listed, are spread through respiratory droplets. These respiratory droplets are generated when a person is coughing, sneezing, or talking. That’s right, even just by talking! If you are infected, the pathogen can travel through your respiratory droplets and be transmitted to people around you, or they can contaminate surfaces. So, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be an unaware vector of the disease and wearing a mask helps you keep your droplets to yourself when interacting with others.
2. They protect you from infected individuals!
In regards to the same CDC transmission-based precautions, specific personal protective equipment can be used to decrease your chances of contracting various pathogens. When viruses and bacteria spread by respiratory droplets, those droplets infect you by traveling into your mouth, nose, and eyes. Wearing a mask properly helps block infectious particles from finding a home in your mouth and nose. COVID-19, in most cases, is believed to be spread by respiratory droplets. Thus, wearing a mask can help reduce your risk of contracting the disease.
Now that we know how face masks protect us, it is important to note that different masks can offer different levels of protection. The American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM) is an international standards organization that develops technical standards for many different fields-including healthcare. They put face masks through a series of five tests to determine what standards they meet. These tests are: Bacterial filtration, particle filtration, synthetic blood splatter, flammability, and breathability. Based on specific criteria, the masks are sorted into one of three levels after they are tested. Level 1 offers the lowest level of protection, while level 3 offers the highest. Patriot Medical Devices offers masks that have been tested and proven to function at the ASTM 3 standard. Patriot masks offer the highest level of protection against particles and fluids, while also being comfortable to wear!
Transmission Based Precautions.
Modes of transmission of virus causing COVID-19: implications for IPC precaution recommendations.