There has been a lot of bad advice coming from government authorities and ‘experts’ during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, and it usually starts with the ominous words “there is still no evidence that…”. The questionable advice which follows usually discourages people from helping themselves by taking extra precautions that take little to no effort and cost nothing, but needlessly puts lives at risk where common sense should prevail.
So far we have been mistakenly told by governments, experts and authorities that:
COVID-19 coronavirus has been contained, and that there is no reasonable threat of infection.
Fact: COVID-19 coronavirus has not been contained, it has spread worldwide due to international travel and has now become a significant global pandemic.
There is no evidence of airborne transmission of the COVID-19 coronavirus.
Fact: COVID-19 coronavirus remains active in the air for up to 3 hours, carried and transmitted (spread) by by respiratory droplets (tiny water droplets) in the air, which are expelled from the lungs when people are talking, coughing or sneezing. Respiratory droplets can travel six metres for a cough and up to eight metres for a sneeze.
There is no evidence of asymptomatic transmission.
Fact: COVID-19 coronavirus can infect a person who shows no symptoms but can pass the coronavirus to others. People who are presymptomatic (infected and will fall ill but not showing any symptoms yet) usually won’t show any symptoms for 2-4 weeks. Presymptomatic carriers begin shedding (breathing out) significant quantities of the virus about 48 hours before symptoms appear. Around 25 percent of people infected don’t present any symptoms or will not become ill but can still transmit the illness to others. Asymptomatic carriers are most likely contributing to the rapid spread of the coronavirus worldwide.
There is no evidence of community transmission of COVID-19 coronavirus.
Fact: COVID-19 coronavirus can can spread by community transmission, where it passes from person to person, infecting people with no history of travel to affected areas, or of contact with the infected person. The spread is obviously through infected respiratory droplets making contact with the nose, mouth or eyes, or through touching surfaces contaminated with infected respiratory droplets and then touching the face.
Critical Thinking and Risk Reduction – Should You Wear a Mask?
The latest claims from many authorities is that the public don’t need to wear protective masks.
My first question is why not? Why would you not wear respiratory protection against an airborne respiratory disease?
If we take the politics and other subjective matters out of the question, we essentially are looking at a matter of risk mitigation, otherwise known as risk reduction, the process by which we implement specific measures to minimize or eliminate unacceptable risks, or reduce the probability of the risk materializing.
Before we even examine the science, just from a risk reduction perspective, If we weigh up the cost of wearing masks against all possible outcomes, we realise that wearing masks is a sensible precautionary measure against COVID-19 coronavirus.
As shown in the graphic below, there are four possible scenarios:
- If we wear masks, and they DO reduce the risk of infection, we save lives for the cost of a few dollars for a mask, a highly favourable outcome.
- If we wear masks, and they DO NOT reduce the risk of infection, we lose a few dollars for a mask, no big deal.
- If we DO NOT wear masks, and they do reduce the risk of infection, we lose needlessly, a highly unfavourable outcome.
- If we DO NOT wear masks, and they DO NOT reduce the risk of infection, we lose needlessly, we neither lose or gain anything, nothing changes.
It is evident that the benefit of wearing a mask to protect against COVID-19 coronavirus outweighs the risks of not wearing one.
Scientific Facts versus Government Claims about Masks for Coronavirus
Now lets bring the science and critical thinking into the equation to see how government advise stacks up.
Governments tell us that we don’t need to use masks for protection against COVID-19 coronavirus infection
Fact: The standard accepted and approved protection against infectious respiratory droplets is a P2 or P3 rated mask under Australia/NZ standards or the equivalent N95 or N99 mask under US standards.
These are rated to filter out 95% or 99% of infectious airborne respiratory droplets respectively. Wearing respiratory protection such as masks is the standard precaution used against an airborne respiratory diseases.
Governments tell us that we shouldn’t use properly rated P2 or N95 masks for protection against COVID-19 coronavirus infection because the masks need to fit well to work.
Fact: Using a P2 or N95 rated mask is quite simple, you just have to ensure that masks are well fitted to the face with no air gaps, instructions are provided by mask manufacturers. These masks are routinely used by tradesmen, industrial workers and spray painters, it’s not rocket science.
Please see instructions below and feel free to download these instructions in pdf format for your safety. Even a badly fitting mask will provide significant protection compared to wearing no mask.
Governments tell us that surgical masks do not offer protection against COVID-19 coronavirus infection, they should not be worn by healthy people, only medical professionals and sick people.
Fact: The reason why surgical masks are used by healthy individuals working as health professionals is because the masks offer some protection, and some is better than none. Surgical masks actually offer significant protection, even though they don’t fit tightly on the face like P2/N95 industrial respirators.
In a study conducted in 2009 by researchers from Edinburgh University titled “Beneficial cardiovascular effects of reducing exposure to particulate air pollution with a simple facemask“, they tested the effectiveness of various masks for blocking diesel exhaust.
They tested down to a particle size of .007 microns, which is much smaller than 2.5 microns level for general pollutants, and 10 times smaller than the coronavirus which averages 0.125 microns (125 nm), with a range in size from 0.06 to 0.14 microns (60-140nm). The results showed that the surgical mask was able to block out 80% of particles. You can find the study here – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2662779/
Governments tell us that we shouldn’t wear surgical masks or P2/N95 respirators because they’re needed by health professionals.
Fact: This has to be the most fallacious argument ever proposed, and is a classical flaw in reasoning. This type of thinking is what is referred to as a zero-sum game, where one side gains only if the other loses.
This is absurd, the general public are not competing with hospitals and medical professionals for protective safety equipment! The general public buy their P2/N95 masks from industrial and paint stores, and their surgical masks from Chinese vendors on eBay and from online superstores in mainland China. They don’t buy from hospital suppliers!
Governments tell us that we shouldn’t wear any masks because they’re dangerous as they can instill a false sense of security.
Fact: The point of masks is to reduce risk, not to eliminate the risk completely, as only a fully sealed biohazard suit would do that. Even a P3/N99 mask will block out 99% of particles, but 1% will get through. This all-or-none mentality is seriously flawed logic.
By this reasoning security personnel should never be allowed to use body armour other than the highest rated and heaviest to wear, because lower rated armour isn’t designed to protect to the highest level.
Protection of all sorts comes in various levels, and it’s a continuum from the least to most effective, not an all-or-none binary option. Even crude, homemade masks offer some protection. A 2013 study at Cambridge University titled “Testing the Efficacy of Homemade Masks: Would They Protect in an Influenza Pandemic?” tested homemade masks made from a range of materials as an alternative to commercial face masks, and evaluated for the capacity to block bacterial and viral aerosols.
The number of microorganisms isolated from coughs of healthy volunteers wearing their homemade mask, a surgical mask, or no mask was compared using several air-sampling techniques. Even though the median-fit factor of the homemade masks was one-half that of the surgical masks, both masks significantly reduced the number of microorganisms expelled by volunteers, although the surgical mask was 3 times more effective in blocking transmission than the homemade mask.
The conclusion was that a homemade mask should only be considered as a last resort to prevent droplet transmission from infected individuals, but it would be better than no protection. All of the materials tested for homemade masks did offer some protection, even against 0.02-micron bacteriophage particles which are smaller than 0.125 microns sized coronavirus particles.
To state some figures of how effective various materials were against 0.02-micron bacteriophage particles: Surgical mask (89%), Vacuum cleaner bag (86%), Dish towel (73%), Cotton blend T-shirt (70%), Antimicrobial pillowcase (68%), Linen (62%), Pillowcase (57%), Silk (54%), 100% cotton T-shirt (51%), Scarf (49%). So, even wrapping a scarf around your face while out in public can reduce the exposure by almost half!
What Are N95 Masks and Surgical Masks Made Of?
Some readers may be curious about what materials P2 or N95 respirator masks and surgical masks are made of.
N95 (P2) and N99 (P3) respirator masks are made of a non-woven polypropylene melt-blown electrostatic polymer sandwiched between layers of non-woven fabric, which are ultrasonically welded or fused together. These masks are capable of filtering out very fine particles in the air, but some of these respirators also include an additional layer of activated charcoal to filter certain chemicals and vapours in the air.
Surgical masks are usually made using a three-ply (three layer) construction. They are made with a inner non-woven polypropylene melt-blown polymer filtering layer (similar to an N95 respirator mask) between a non-woven fabric front and back. Usually, the non-woven fabric side is that sits against the face is coloured white while the outer side fabric exposed to the world is light blue, this would prevent contamination if a mask is temporarily taken off and put back on the wrong way.
In the infographic below on how to make a 3-layer fabric face mask, World Health Organisation recommends using the following construction:
- An inner layer of absorbent fabric, such as cotton, to absorb droplets from your breath.
- A middle layer of non-woven fabric, such as spunbound (an electrostatic charged synthetic material), to enhance filtration.
- An outer layer of moisture-resistant fabric, such as polyester, to repel airborne droplets.
Why Any Mask Will Make a Difference Against Coronavirus
It has been observed that in many countries across East Asia, it’s common for people to wear face masks out of social responsibility. People who are ill wear masks to protect others around them, and healthy people wear masks during the cold and flu season to protect themselves.
It’s no coincidence that in countries where where mask wearing a common practice, such as South Korea, Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong, they have managed to prevent the COVID-19 coronavirus cases from spiking and have managed to flatten the curve of COVID-19 coronavirus spread. Mask wearing, combined with high social obedience, and a cultures which value the greater good of the community all contribute to reducing COVID-19 coronavirus.
Speaking on CNN, Ivan Hung, an infectious diseases specialist at the Hong Kong University School of Medicine, stated:
“If you look at the data in Hong Kong, wearing a mask is probably the most important thing in terms of infection control. And it not only brings down the cases of coronaviruses, it also brings down the influenza. In fact, this is now the influenza season, and we hardly see any influenza cases. And that is because the masks actually protected not only against coronaviruses but also against the influenza viruses as well.”
Even if masks don’t work perfectly, they still reduce the amount of inhaled virus particles, which makes a significant difference. According to virologist Peter Kolchinsky, masks are helpful because they reduce the amount of virus released (even by breathing) or taken in, and the dose matters with COVID-19 exposure because your immune system is more effective if the infection starts with a low dose.
While the United Nations World Health Organisation prepares to backflip in its previous recommendations to not wear masks, and considers recommending the wearing of face masks to curb the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus , the US already has done a backflip. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US CDC) is now advising its citizens to voluntarily wear a basic cloth or fabric face mask to help curb the spread of the virus. This came 35 days after the US surgeon general stated that masks are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching coronavirus.
DIY COVID-19 Fabric Mask (with Filter Pocket) Sewing Tutorial Video
If you would like to make your own mask, here’s a quick 3 minute video that shows you how.
A DIY face mask can be reused if it’s cleaned regularly in the correct way, either by heat sterilizing it in an oven at 70 degrees C (160 degrees F) for 30-60 minutes, or UV sterilizing it by exposing both sides to an ultraviolet (UV) sterilizer lamp, time required will depend on the sterilizer used.
I’ve ordered my protective face masks from China, so I won’t be depriving hospitals of protective equipment as some governments falsely claim. Hope they get here in time! I’ll wear a mask when I venture out into public spaces, not only to protect myself from other, but to protect others from me, just in case I’m asymptomatic – it’s the responsible thing to do.
For more information on protective face masks, please see the following articles:
- How To Safely Put on, Use and Remove a Face Mask to Protect Against COVID-19 Coronavirus
- How to Use Replaceable Filter Face Masks for COVID-19 Coronavirus Protection
- COVID-19 Coronavirus Misinformation – Are Masks Protective?
- Davies, Anna & Thompson, Katy-Anne & Giri, Karthika & Kafatos, George & Walker, James & Bennett, Allan. (2013). Testing the Efficacy of Homemade Masks: Would They Protect in an Influenza Pandemic?. Disaster medicine and public health preparedness. 7. 413-418. 10.1017/dmp.2013.43.
- Langrish JP, Mills NL, Chan JK, Leseman DL, Aitken RJ, Fokkens PH, Cassee FR, Li J, Donaldson K, Newby DE, Jiang L. Beneficial cardiovascular effects of reducing exposure to particulate air pollution with a simple facemask. Part Fibre Toxicol. 2009 Mar 13;6:8. doi: 10.1186/1743-8977-6-8. PMID: 19284642; PMCID: PMC2662779.
News Article Quotes:
- February 11, 2020 – “Australia’s Chief Medical Officer has once again called for calm over the coronavirus, saying there is “no reason” for people to wear masks and no evidence of the illness being transmitted in the community”. News.com.au source article link here.
- February 11, 2020 – “There is still no evidence of airborne
transmission of the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), a World Health Organization (WHO) official said on Tuesday, February 11. WHO country representative to the Philippines Rabindra Abeyasinghe made the statement on Tuesday, in response to questions on whether WHO had evidence of the airborne transmission of the virus. “I’m not quite sure what led to this rumor. It might have been something in the translation that led to this,” Abeyasinghe said, adding that the claims of the Shanghai Civil Affairs Bureau about the airborne transmission of the disease were still being studied. He reiterated that the confirmed modes of transmission of the new coronavirus were still “via droplets or through close contact.”” Rappler source article here.
- February 22, 2020 – “Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt says that Australians should be out in the community supporting Chinese Australians, stating emphatically that the Covid 19 cononavirus has been contained, and that there is no reasonable threat of infection. Australian Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy backs the minister’s statement and says that avoiding Chinese restaurants and other businesses is merely xenophobic.” News.com.au source article link here.
- March 5, 2020 – “The latest confirmed coronavirus case in New Zealand is an important reminder that we should be mindful of our behaviour, but there is no strong evidence of asymptomatic transmission…” NewsHub NZ source article here.
- April 5, 2020 – “Coronavirus Australia live updates: Deputy chief health officer Paul Kelly stresses mask use not recommended. As the US starts to demand its citizens wear masks, the Australian government is saying the opposite, with warnings they’re even dangerous. The country’s deputy chief health officer Professor Paul Kelly has stressed people shouldn’t be wearing masks out in public.” News.com.au source article link here.