To mask or not to mask

That is the question. Do surgical masks do any good? Or as many ‘authorities’ like Canada’s Federal chief medical honcho keep telling us, masks are baaad and raaacist and your legs will drop off if wear one.

Well, I look at the public health ‘advice’ out there and I’m having a bad case of “WTF?” Finding advice given over the mass media often contradictory and downright bad. Especially if you want to avoid spreading or contracting any form of lurgi.

Declaration of interest here. I’ve done basic operating theatre training and a six weeks placement assisting with a number of operations from tonsilectomies to hip replacements. So I’m not entirely ignorant. Okay, much of my experience is dated, but the basics are pretty simple and haven’t changed that much.

Ask yourself this;

Q: Why do operating theatre staff wear disposable paper deflector masks rather than filter masks?
A: To prevent them breathing germs over open wounds.

You see, I was taught that the purpose of a surgical mask is to slow and direct breathed (and infected) air away from the area being operated upon. This is why the one time I picked up a filter mask because we were running low on the soft surgical variety, the Senior Sister on duty tore me off a serious strip and sent me back to the scrub area to get a proper surgical mask and wash up again. That woman had a tongue that could scour rust. Hey, but she was old school and her lessons stuck.

Her lesson was that filter masks are not that useful in containing viruses, especially when containing coughs and sneezes, because a little expressed airflow still escapes over the area you want to keep clear of infection and viruses can pass through even an N95. With a soft surgical mask the ever present germs from your breath tend to be directed behind the mask and not over someone else whilst still allowing you to breathe freely. That is why they work.

Which if containing diseases is the effect you are looking for, surgical masks are quite the thing. You can even make your own if the stores are out, which at the moment is probable. Pattern here if you’re handy with a sewing machine. Or watch the video below (Sorry about the accent, she’s American, poor lamb). A normal Kleenex will do for a disposable insert. Make a few and give them to your friends. Sell them to your enemies. At top dollar.

This isn’t an April fools by the way.

To reiterate; in terms of restricting infection spread a soft surgical style mask does not have to be tight fitting and fulfills it’s function pretty well even if worn over a beard. A scarf over the face works too. Anything that slows droplets expressed during a cough or sneeze (Or even excited talking) will do at a pinch. A scarf or large bandanna tied over the face while you’re out and about mitigates the worst of the spread simply because it reduces the radius of potential infection to centimetres rather than two metres. Cotton or viscose will do. Don’t forget to wash after each use. Cover your mouth with paper tissues or even an old fashioned handkerchief if you have nothing else. Japanese and Koreans wear masks a lot, and their infection stats are much lower than those in the Anglophone west. We should profit from their example.

Conclusion; masks aren’t bad. They’re quite good, no matter what the PTB say. To say otherwise is monumentally bad advice, especially when it comes to preventing the spread of a nasty disease like SARS-CoVD 19. Add a mask to decent hygiene and cheap non-latex gloves you will maximise your chances of coming through this pandemic relatively unscathed when out and about, going to work or the stores.

So long as Security think you’re not trying to rob the place and call the cops on you, you’ll be fine.

This has been a public information post. Stay safe.

3 thoughts on “To mask or not to mask”

  1. One thing I forgot to say is that what I wrote was with a view regarding catching the virus from an infected person, rather than keeping my bacteria from an infected area, on the strength that, if I had the virus I wouldn’t be out in public anyway.


  2. A mask will help if you want a bit of peace of mind but do little good as far as catching a virus is concerned. They will prevent aerosols, droplets and particles but a virus is so small that the filter would need to be so fine that it would make breathing difficult. Add to that the face seal problem. The only type which would seal properly are those with the rubber seal, like a gas mask.

    For maximum protection the complete face mask with eye protection and replaceable canister filters would be the best but those would be very expensive. Other than that, masks for DIY are a good alternative. They are rated from FFP1 (dust/particle) to FFP3 (better). FFP3 will have a filter, sometimes of the canister type, but more often built into the mask, and mould better to the face. N95 surgical masks are akin to a chocolate teapot. None of these types would protect against fumes or gas.

    This sounds ridiculous but my welding mask from work would be ideal. It has the face seal, complete face protection in the form of a grinding lens (welding lens flips up) and is air fed from a ventilator/filter/battery pack worn on a belt. The airflow over the face would immediately exhaust any contaminated air entering directly through the face seal.

    Masks seem to be another fallacy among the public here. In the supermarket a week ago I saw a bloke wearing a N95 mask, it was the wrong way around and his nose was hanging over the top.


    1. It’s not the filtering effect you’re after, with surgical masks it’s deflection. Viruses are very small and can sometimes even pass through NBC level filters. At least, according to what I’ve been told.

      I suppose if you were going to extremes a heavily chlorinated water trap and activated charcoal setup would keep the lurgi at bay. Bulky but effective. I used to know one of the Engineering team who worked on the early Challenger tanks NBC systems. He liked to talk and I was working on HVAC systems at the time. So I listened. Interesting man. Used to restore cars.

      On the other hand, a simple disposable (Or washable) surgical mask diverts the worst of the droplets for a few hours while you’re out, and is a lot more comfortable. Doesn’t make you sweat or leave you with big red mask seal lines on your face either. If it has a plastic eyeshield, all to the good. Protects those delicate mucosa without mussing your hairdo.

      Of course, people should also change and wash their street clothes and shower immediately after being in contact with a contaminated outside world to be absolutely sure. Which is why you wear scrubs and one use gowns in theatre.


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