Seventeen Things You Should Know About Face Masks

Dr Vernon Coleman MB ChB DSc FRSA

The world is now awash with conflicting reports on how or when or whether to wear a mask to protect you against the flu, the lurgy or the embarrassment of having egg on your chin. Some people, such as the Mayor of London, want masks to be compulsory though no one has provided evidence for the compulsion. The Mayor has allegedly threatened to order people to wear masks in London if the Government does not do so.

There are videos and books explaining how to make your own mask out of unwanted bits and pieces found lying around the home. It is possible to make two excellent face masks out of the cups of an old brassiere, using the straps to fashion loops to go around the ears or the back of the head. Naturally, the size of the bra has a big influence on its suitability for turning into a face mask, and a bra measuring 44JJ is probably going to be a little on the loose side for most people. And if you need fresh masks every day you will need a large supply of bras.

Here are the 17 things everyone should know about masks:

1. The World Health Organisation recommends that disposable masks should be discarded after one use.

2. The WHO doesn’t seem to have any guidelines for masks made out of washable material but it’s a fair guess that it would recommend washing thoroughly at a high temperature after every use.

3. The WHO says that if you are healthy you only need to wear a mask if you are taking care of someone who is suspected of having Covid 2019 infection aka 2019-nCoV.

4. Masks are effective only when used in combination with frequent hand washing with soap and water or an alcohol based hand rub.

5. Fabric masks may allow viruses to enter and are not considered to be anywhere near as protective as surgical masks.

6. A study called `Optical miscroscopic study of surface morphology and filtering efficiency of face masks’ concluded that face masks made of cloth are not very good at filtering out viruses because the pores are much bigger than the particulate matter that needs to be kept out.

7. One study showed that facemasks may have pores five thousand times larger than virus particles. If this is accurate it means that the virus will wander through the face mask much like a mouse wandering through Marble Arch.

8. Washing cloth face masks makes them even less effective. The more you wash the mask the less effective it becomes.

9. Masks are only really effective if they fit perfectly and if the wearer does not move their head.

10. Surgical masks are worn to stop bits of food or hair falling from the surgeon or nurse into a wound. They will stop some bacteria but will not usually stop viruses.

11. Much of the air we breathe in and out goes around the side of the mask unless it is very tight fitting.

12. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the US recommends that everyone wear masks in public places where it is difficult to stay six feet from other people.

13. Touching a mask appears to stop the mask providing protection. It has been suggested that you should put on a new mask if you have touched the one you are wearing.

14. People with breathing difficulties (such as asthma or bronchitis) may find that wearing a mask makes breathing even more difficult.

15. Does wearing a face mask reduce your immunity levels? No one seems to know the answer for sure but it seems possible that if people wear face masks for long periods (months or years) then the absence of contact with the real world might well have a harmful effect on immunity – if the face mask works.

16. Do face masks prevent us developing immunity to particular diseases? This depends on many factors – mainly the effectiveness of the face mask.

17. Everyone seems to have a view on whether or not wearing face masks is a good thing. But no one seems to have any evidence to prove their viewpoint. And the effectiveness of a mask depends massively on the nature of the mask, how it is worn and how often it is changed.

I have studied yards of scientific studies on the subject and as a result of much dull reading I am totally confused. I was hoping to be able to offer some certainty. The only certainty seems to me to be that no one is certain. Wearing a mask may or may not do any harm but it may give the wearer a false sense of confidence.

Please note the date at the bottom of this article. Things are forever changing.

Copyright Vernon Coleman May 16th 2020

Vernon Coleman’s book `Coming Apocalypse’ describes how the `crisis’ developed, how and why the lockdown and social distancing are going to change our world forever and what sort of future we can now expect. `Coming Apocalypse’ is available from Amazon as a paperback and an eBook.