The Skyhawk View

October 2020 Volume 8, Issue 1

Issue Table of Contents


By Natalie L. Francis

     Medical masks are used as a barrier in order to prevent the spread of disease. Viral and Bacterial cells are often tiny but typically spread through water molecules expelled when we cough, sneeze or exhale. These water molecules are large enough to get trapped behind the cloth barriers of these medical masks. The masks, however, only work if used correctly.

     When walking in a public place, it is common to see people wearing masks incorrectly, whether with their nose breaching the mask's top or wearing it too tight. In both of these instances, the mask is ineffective as a barrier to water droplets. Stadnytskyi, Valentyn of the National Institute of Health explains water molecules are not just expelled orally via coughing, sneezing, or talking. Vapors are released into the air from merely exhaling normally. This effect can be seen happening when standing outside on a very cold day. The "steam" caused by your exhale is filled with tiny water droplets that could be carried along with any viral or bacterial cells you have in your body.

     Matthew Staymates from the National Institute of Health and Technology experimented using schlieren imaging. Schlieren photographs and videos show the contrasts in gas and liquid density. In the experiment, he recorded people exhaling, talking, and sneezing with and without masks. The study indicated without a doubt that masks were a significant barrier to the water droplets expelled when performing these actions.

     To use the mask properly, it needs to have it sealed around the mouth and nose. If unsure as to whether a mask is working,  Joe Hanson of PBS’ youtube channel “It’s okay to be smart” suggests the following experiment:  Light a candle and step a foot away. Apply the mask and blow forcefully in the direction of the candle as if trying to put it out. If the flame flickers or goes out entirely, check the mask's fit or fabric and try again. Notice I mentioned fabric. A medical mask fabric is made of tiny fibers and overlaid, and materials are compacted like a rats nest, making it more difficult for particles to get through. According toEric Westman of Duke Medical school clamims Neck gaiters (scarf-like masks) are not as effective because the material is fragile and assembled with very loose stitching, making it very easy for particles to break through the mask's fabric.

     There are a few myths regarding masks that circulate on social media. Most important: "I feel healthy, so I do not need to wear a mask." Current studies show that 50% of Covid-19 cases spread through individuals who are not showing symptoms. Even if tested, the CDC and local public health official state that current estimates say that an individual receives CVID-19 test results for up to seven days after infection. The consensus of most Health organizations, include the W.H.O., is that the majority cases are caused by "super spreaders," people infected with COVid-19 but are unaware of it. These individuals are responsible for infecting up to 12 people.

     Another claim is that masks interfere with the body's oxygen and CO2 levels. In 1905 Alice Hamilton suggested using medical masks in a surgical environment to reduce infection risk from Doctors in the operating room during procedures. Medical personnel in hospitals have been using masks ever since and show no indication of health problems due to imbalances in their oxygen and CO2 levels.

     Dr. Richard Davis of Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center explains that In 1910 there was an outbreak of the pneumonic plague in China. Wu Lien-Teh encouraged the mass production and use of masks to prevent the spread of the disease amongst the public. The use of masks was adapted in the United States in 1918 to combat the Spanish flu. In both instances, no side effects related to hypercapnia or oxygen toxicity occurred. You can also see experiments he’s shown on twitter in which he speaks,  sneezes, and coughs over Petri dishes on his twitter account.

    The CDC and most Government officials agree that masks are not a cure-all. They are just a part of a broader strategy. This strategy includes wearing a mask, hands washing, social distancing, and staying home when possible. It is essential to remember that a mask is worn to protect everyone. Even if you feel healthy, you may be one of the asymptomatic individuals who are still capable of spreading COVID-19. A person standing near you may also be an asymptomatic carrier. If it were possible to know for sure, wouldn't you want that person wearing a mask? That person probably feels the same way about you.

     Wearing a mask is not a political statement. It is a statement that you care about yourself, the others around you, and that you want others to care as well. A mask sends the vital message that "We are all in this together." This is a message we all need to hear in this uncertain time.