How effective is your mask when nobody else is wearing it?

By Sanjay Kumar

NEW DELHI, Jan 11 – Omicron — the new variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 — is spreading globally faster than any other virus. The latest report from the UK shows that patients with the Omicron are less likely to be admitted to hospitals, however, observations in Europe and US show that this milder form of the virus can still put pressure on the global health system because of the speed with which the virus spreads.

India has recorded a 28 times increase in daily COVID-19 cases over the last 14 days. On January 10, 2022, nearly 1.8 lakh daily cases were recorded from across the country, where the daily positivity rate rose to 13.3%.

First detected in South Africa in November 2021, Omicron is more infectious — three times according to government estimates. It is also believed to be more resistant to vaccines.

It becomes pertinent at this stage to revisit the various means by which one can keep this virus away, and wearing a mask is one of them. However, the question arises whether wearing the mask is always effective and protects you in all circumstances. What happens when you are the only person who’s wearing the mask? Will the protective gear be as effective when other people around you are not wearing the mask?

Commenting on the efficacy of the mask when people around you are not wearing it, Dr. Anupam Prakash, the COVID in charge of the Lady Hardinge Medical College, Delhi, said, “No mask gives hundred percent protection, but it does protect the wearer irrespective of whether people around him are wearing masks or not.”

There is no denying the fact that a mask works best when an infected person wears it. This is because when an infected person wears a mask a large portion of the exhaled infectious particles is trapped stopping the virus to spread at the source. When fewer viruses are floating around, the masks others are wearing are likely to block those that have skipped.

Studies reveal that masks do protect the wearer even if others are not wearing the mask. However, the amount of protection depends upon the quality of the mask and how well it fixes on the face of the wearer.

COVID-19 is mainly spread through droplets that come from your nose and mouth. For example, when you cough, sneeze or talk loudly. It can also be spread by smaller particles (aerosols).

Dos & Don’ts of Wearing a Mask

Different types of face masks and visors are available in the market. Even when you are wearing a mask, you still need to take other measures to protect yourself from the COVID-19 virus.

A medical face mask, which is a blue disposable mask, gives better protection from COVID-19. Throw out the medical face masks after you use. Do not wash or reuse them.

Wear a medical face mask instead of a cloth face mask if you are at higher risk from COVID-19 — you are over 70 years of age or you have an underlying condition.

Use a medical face mask at home if you have symptoms of COVID-19 or have tested positive for the virus. Also, when you are living with someone who has contacted COVID-19 or are taking care of someone who is infected with the virus. If you have any symptoms of the disease, self-isolate and get a COVID-19 test done.

Face masks are generally made from cotton or silk and have at least 2 layers of fabric. Store face mask at home in a dry, breathable bag to keep it clean. Wash your cloth face mask whenever it gets dirty or at least every day.

There is no need to sterilize face masks. Wash them in a washing machine or by hand.

Throw out a reusable face mask if it no longer covers the nose and mouth, has loose or damaged ties or straps, does not stay in place on your face and has holes or tears in the fabric.

Visors are not the best option for protecting yourself and others from COVID-19. It should only be worn if you have an illness or impairment that makes wearing a face mask difficult.

Do not wear a face mask if it has a valve or vent. They are not good because you could breathe in or breathe out the virus through the valve or vent. They are normally used to protect against dust. They are not designed to stop the spread of a virus.

A disposable face mask with a vent on the frontlet in the air and does not protect you from the virus.