Many commercially available masks are made from layers of plastics and are designed to be single use. According to an analysis by scientists at University College London, if every person in the UK used one single use mask each day for a year, an extra 66,000 tonnes of contaminated plastic waste would be created. The use of reusable masks by the general population would significantly reduce plastic waste and the climate change impact of any policy requirements for the wearing of face mask, according to the UCL team, led by Prof Mark Miodownik. They say that according to the best evidence, reusable masks perform most of the tasks of single-use masks without the associated waste stream.
Yes. Different types of mask offer different levels of protection. Surgical grade N95 respirators offer the highest level of protection against Covid-19 infection, followed by surgical grade masks. However, these masks are costly, in limited supply, contribute to landfill waste and are uncomfortable to wear for long periods. So even countries that have required the public to wear face masks have generally suggested such masks should be reserved for health workers or those at particularly high risk.
How do you take them on and off safely?
Before putting on a mask, clean your hands well with soap and water. Cover the mouth and nose with your mask and make sure there are no gaps between your face and the mask. Avoid touching the mask while using it and, if you do, wash your hands. Replace the mask when it is damp. To remove your mask, take it off using the elastic tags, without touching the front and discard immediately into a closed bin or, if the mask is reusable, directly into the washing machine.
While just how much of a role these small particles play in transmission remains to be seen, recent research suggests that cloth masks are also effective at reducing the spread of these smaller particles. In a paper that has not yet been peer-reviewed, researchers found that micro-droplets fell out of the air within 1.5 meters of the person who was wearing a mask, versus 5 meters for those not wearing masks. When combined with social distancing, this suggests that masks can effectively reduce transmission via micro-droplets.
If only people with symptoms infected others, then only people with symptoms would need to wear masks. But experts have shown that people without symptoms pose a risk of infecting others. In fact, four recent studies show that nearly half of patients are infected by people who do not themselves have symptoms.