Understanding The Importance of Wearing Face Masks

Wearing face masks is nothing new but it was never the norm for most people. Now some people think having to wear a face mask everywhere we go is somewhat of a hindrance rather than a benefit.

To see the positive in wearing face masks now more than ever, we need to understand the importance of wearing face masks to appreciate and be more open to actually using it as required.

To start, we will need to know the history of face masks, as they have been around for a long time.

The History of Face Masks

During the Yuan Dynasty in China, around 1279 to 1368, there was a similar item worn to the face mask we wear today. It was a kind of scarf that was made with silk and gold threads, which was worn by the servants of the emperor. Specifically the ones responsible for serving the emperor his meals.

It was believed that the purpose of this ‘face mask’ was to cover the noses and mouths of the servants, so as to not let their breaths impact the taste or the smell of the food. This was all recorded by Marco Polo in The Travels of Marco Polo.

 

Moving forward in time a bit, to the 16th century, we see where the ‘beak mask’ was created and promoted during the Plague of 1656. This was attributed to a French doctor, Charles de Lorme. The mask was designed to be worn with a large waxen coat. This was to provide full protection to the plague doctors during that time.

Showing the Beak Face Mask used in the 16th century by plague doctors.
Paul Fürst, engraving, c. 1721, of a plague doctor of Marseilles

The mask was designed to be worn with a large waxen coat. This was to provide full protection to the plague doctors during that time.

But a more relatable face mask implementation came about that same century. Leonardo da Vinci, a famous painter, had proposed using a soaked cloth, and placing it over your nose and mouth as a means to filter out toxic chemicals coming from the air around us. This very effective method is a widely used guide in fire escapes even today!

Modern Times

It was not until the 19th century that the design of masks took a big leap.

After starting to learn that masks have a protective effect against dust in 1827, Robert Brown a Scottish scientist, through “Brownian motion”, we see masks being made to protect miners. This was first patented by Lewis Hassley in 1848.

 

Louis Pasteur in 1861, a biologist, microbiologist and chemist, proved that bacteria was present in the air. This allowed for the design of masks to get a little more attention from then on. This led to a mask made with six layers of gauze being sewed in the collar of the surgical gown in 1899. Doctors only needed to flip their collar up when in use. This eventually gave birth to the modern face mask that could be hanged on the ears with a looped strap.

Showing Dr. Wu and his invented design of the face mask used by doctors.
Dr. Wu Lien-teh (right) and F. Eberson perform plague inhalation experiments in Mukden, modern-day Shenyang, Liaoning province, 1916. From CRASSH/University of Cambridge

In the late Qing Dynasty, during 1644 – 1911, Wu Liande, a medical scientist, invented a mask made with two layers of gauze. This was made in response to a plague in Northeast China. 

Due to its low production cost and simplicity to make with easy to obtain materials, this mask was highly accepted by experts in many different countries.

As we moved forward in time, we had several outbreaks and even an increase in smog from the modern industry and other pollutants that diminish the air quality around us. This made the material used to make face masks evolve to better protect wearers from the added threats.

So as you can see face masks were made and used for a variety of reasons. From being used when serving food (sanitation), to protection from diseases and bacteria, to even dust and toxic chemicals in the air.

Why Should You Wear Face Masks Now?

Sadly we are facing another spread of a virus. That alone is more than enough reason to wear a mask. However, wearing a face mask was never the norm for Westerners in particular.

For example, in countries like Japan and South Korea, wearing a face mask was done as a norm for the common cold and flu, and also as a means of fashion. As a result, they did not need to convince their citizens to wear masks.

Other than there being a pandemic, and wearing a mask for a fashion statement, we should also consider wearing masks in areas where the air quality is poor. People who work in said areas are required to wear protective mask gears but basic protection is needed for civilians who are simply passing through those areas.

I will however focus on the main reasons based on the pandemic situation we are facing now.

As we venture out in public spaces we will come across other people. We will cross paths and socialize with others. With so many unknowns surrounding the COVID-19, we must be proactive in preventing the spread among each other.

What evidence is there to show wearing a face mask is important in preventing the spread of COVID-19?

The first evidence that shows the importance of wearing a face mask comes from studies and experiments done by laboratories studying respiratory droplets, and the ability of various masks in blocking them.

An experiment was done using a high-speed video. This experiment showed that from a person speaking a simple phrase, droplets amounting from 20 to 500 micrometers were made. It was proven that nearly all were blocked when a damp washcloth was covering the mouth.

Another study showed that people who had contracted influenza or the common cold, found that wearing a surgical mask, greatly reduced the amount of these respiratory viruses being emitted via droplets.

What is more compelling are the case reports that show how the use of a face masked drastically decreased the potential spread of COVID-19. In one case, a man flew from China to Toronto and was tested positive for COVID-19. Due to having a dry cough he ensured he wore a mask during his flight and the people closest to him during the flight tested negative.

In late May, there was also another case where two hair stylists in Missouri had contact with 140 clients while they were sick with COVID-19. Everyone wore a mask and none of their clients tested positive.

Who should be wearing a face mask?

The question of who should be wearing a face mask always comes up when we hear about the importance of wearing a face mask.

It is safe to say that the persons who should be wearing a face mask in public should be everyone. Both the persons who may be confirmed as sick and those who are not.

Either way you look at it, there is always a benefit to wearing a mask.

For the persons who are sick, they need to wear a mask as a means to protect others from contracting the sickness. The face mask is then seen as a source control as it limits the amount of droplets that leave the sick person and travels out from them.

This will greatly drop the amount of persons that can potentially get infected.

For the persons who are not confirmed sick, need to wear a face mask as a preventative tool. And seeing as the virus can be spread without showing any symptoms, wearing a mask will keep the people around you and yourself safe from the unknown.

What type of face masks do I need to wear?

As you may have noticed from our time down memory lane, face masks have evolved and now are being made with different materials to block various things from entering our bodies. For the masses however the most important thing to consider would be finding a mask that is comfortable and can be worn constantly

It is believed that a surgical mask is necessary due to the N95 material used. However N95 respirators are only necessary for medical situations such as intubation. 

Surgical masks are generally more effective than cloth masks, but any mask that covers the nose and mouth will be of a benefit in our fight against COVID-19.

Wearing a mask is primarily for risk reduction rather than 100%, absolute prevention.

One type of mask people should not wear however, is any mask that is made with valves. The reason for this is that they normally only filter the air you breathe in but opens when you breathe out releasing unfiltered air that could have contaminated droplets.

As a result, you would need to cover such a mask with a non-valved mask, such as a cloth mask or a surgical mask.

Best Practices for Wearing a Face Mask

Now that we understand the importance of wearing a face mask, now we need to know how to effectively and efficiently make use of it. Since wearing a face mask does not mean a guarantee, we have to be sure to use it properly to get the most out of it.

There are five things to be sure to pay attention to when wearing a face mask;

  1. Be sure to wash your hands prior to and after handling the mask.

    This is important as you do not want to contaminate your face mask prior to using it. Germs and bacteria can easily stay on your hands and can be easily passed on to the things you touch.
     
  2. Touch only the loops of the mask when putting on or removing the mask.

    Since the mask will be touching your face you do not want to contaminate the area that will be touching your face and have direct access to your airways. 
  3. Ensure the mask your wearing is able to cover your nose, mouth and chin.

    The mask should not be too small nor should it be too big. Anytime you adjust the mask on your face you should wash your hands prior and afterwards. 
  4. Make sure you can breathe and talk comfortably with your mask on.

    This is particularly important as it allows for you to consistently have your mask on. The more comfortable it is the less number of times you will adjust it making the use of the mask even more effective. 
  5. Wash the face masks that are reusable.This must be done after each and every use. If the mask is disposable, it should then be discarded when visibly damaged or soiled. Never use a mask a second time without first washing it.

Infographic on how to correctly wear a face mask.

 

 

Things to avoid doing when wearing face masks.

Common Mistakes to Avoid While Wearing a Face Mask

Now that we know exactly how to use a face mask, now it’s time to learn about the common mistakes made with mask-wearing.

 

  1. Refrain from touching your own mask or your child’s mask while it is being worn.

    Again, due to being able to contaminate the face mask rendering it ineffective it is best not to touch the mask after putting it on. The same goes for your children’s mask. 
  2. Do not put the mask under your chin.

    Refrain from resting the mask on our chin. In this position the mask is of no benefit to you. 
  3. Do not leave your nose uncovered while wearing a mask.

    The main purpose of the face mask is to protect your respiratory system from taking in contaminants. If you leave your nose uncovered you defeat the purpose of the mask. 
  4. While in public do not remove your mask, especially in the presence of others. 
  5. Do not share your mask with family and friends. Each person should have their own mask that they use.

Conclusion

Now we know why face masks are important and how to maximize its effectiveness as we continue to adapt to the new norm of going out and interacting with each other in this time of uncertainty.

To address the current times we are in, wearing a mask is not enough and we need to pay attention to the other aspects.

  1. Always pay attention to personal hygiene. Since the COVID-19’s emergence we have heard this over and over again. There are still a lot of things we do not know about the virus and how it spreads, so practicing and paying close attention to personal hygiene is important. To be effective with this, look out for these requirements; 
    • Frequently wash your hands, using soap and water and scrubbing for a minimum of 20 seconds. An alcohol-based hand sanitizer can be used if you are not near to water and soap. 
    • Try not to touch your face. Touching our faces is like a bad habit we all share.The average person touches their face about 23 times each hour and most of the time it’s their eyes, ears or nose.
       
    • Always cover coughs and sneezes with your upper arm or the insides of your elbow. 
    • Whenever you feel sick. Just stay home and seek medical guidance. Try not to go out unless going to see your medical doctor with an appointment.
       
  2. Keep your surfaces clean at all times. Since some viruses and bacteria move and grow on surfaces, it is best to be safe rather than sorry. Keeping your surfaces clean will eliminate any opportunity that the virus may have of spreading through touching a contaminated surface and then touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. Here are a few cleaning tips; 
    • Use the right product when cleaning. According to the CDC, most common EPA-registered household disinfectants, diluted household bleach, and alcohol solutions with a minimum of 70% alcohol are effective when cleaning against COVID-19.
    • Make sure you are using the product right. Firstly be sure to clean the dirt from the surface. After which you should wipe with your disinfectant solution and let it sit on the surface for the time the product instructs you to. This is a step most people miss. It is not enough to simply wipe the surface and leave it. 
    • Clean the high contact surfaces. The surfaces that are necessary to clean repeatedly are places you frequent a lot such as phones, door handles, remote controls, switches and more. Also you should pay close to horizontal surfaces and droplets can easily settle on these surfaces. So your countertops, desktops, kitchen tables and other horizontal surfaces must be cleaned often. 
    • Always use one disinfectant wipe for one surface at a time. After thoroughly cleaning a surface the wipes should be thrown out and a new one used for another surface. 
    • Lastly do not dry the surface you wipe clean. The wet solution is important in killing the germs and bacteria in contact with it. So always let it sit for the minutes instructed so as to thoroughly kill the present germs and bacteria. 
  3. Practice social distancing. For some, this may also be challenging as we are used to interacting with people especially close friends and family. But with the challenges we are facing now it is important that we maintain physical distance from other people as much as possible.
     

    • Try to make as many meetings as possible virtual. 
    • Refrain from hugging and doing hand shakes. Not all meetings can be done virtually but if you have to meet in person maintain 6 feet apart. A simple wave or tipping of your hat is more than enough to greet someone. 
    • Make a conscious effort to avoid crowds. Only take a bus or subway if you absolutely have to. If it is walking distance go on foot or you can ride a bike, where possible.

What we must acknowledge is that this virus may be with us for some time. Also there is still so much unknown surrounding the virus, which makes it imperative for us to be proactive in developing good habits that will help to keep us and our community safe and healthy.

Many of us have been affected one way or the other during this pandemic. We want to hear your story and how you had to cope during this challenging time. For every story we publish we donate a mask. Let us take a step in learning how we can protect ourselves and each other.

Share your stories to inspire a positive change and help us make our communities safer with each story and your support.