Do Cloth Masks Stop the Spread of Coronavirus?

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Image by The Singapore Women's Weekly

As governments are moving to ease lockdown restrictions in their specific countries, people are still required to follow a number of guidelines in public spaces to prevent another potential wave of the COVID-19 and the spread of the coronavirus.

In fact, health experts at the World Health Organization have stated that the practice of wearing masks may remain for several months even after the coronavirus infection has been controlled.

However, due to the increase in demand for masks, people and even front line health care workers are finding it difficult to find specialized masks that can help in preventing contracting the virus.

According to the updates from the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, wearing a cloth mask is an effective alternative for the general public and special masks such as N95 masks should be left for people who are at the highest risk of catching the virus such as workers who are in direct contact with infected patients.

Therefore, people are now buying and wearing a cloth mask or even making their own via following instructions and looking for specific materials while stitching their masks.

While the majority is wearing masks in public, there are a few questions raised regarding the use of a cloth mask instead of a specialized one including those about its efficacy in protection against COVID-19.

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The Chairman of Cleveland Clinic’s Department of Infectious Disease, Steven Gordon, and the  Chairman of Cleveland Clinic’s Respiratory Institute, Raed Dweik, state that wearing a mask is a practice that has been fundamental in all health epidemics.

In fact, a number of studies have highlighted that areas in which wearing masks were made essential had a fewer number of cases in comparison with those which did not have any such restrictions.

However, Dr. Dweik also confirms that wearing a cloth mask does not provide the level of protection a specialized N95 mask can. The primary practice of wearing a mask is to stop the spread of the virus from an infected person to other people.

He specifically explains that “There is evidence that such masks reduce the exhaled aerosols from infectious, but asymptomatic, individuals.”

In addition, those with visible symptoms of the virus may also cut down the spread of the virus significantly since the particles released in the air after sneezing or coughing are reduced as the mask can act as a barrier.

Secondly, a number of recent studies have accentuated the possibility of spread even without physical contact in asymptomatic cases. The SARS-CoV-2 virus was seen to spread even through actions including talking or minimal verbal contact.

This is because tiny droplets from the mouth are also released into the air during these actions which can stay in the air for a long period of time before settling down as well as cover long distances while staying in the air.

The findings also further showed that the masks which were worn by people often had other, smaller particles on it. If wearing a mask can trap smaller particles, it can also prevent aerosol particles with coronavirus, as said by Dr. Dewik.

Therefore, it is recommended that all people including very old adults and very young children should wear a cloth mask anywhere outside the house especially now since the restrictions related to COVID-19 lockdown have been eased.

Wearing masks can effectively reduce the likelihood of the spread of the coronavirus in a workplace, a market, or even a street but Dr. Gordon also agrees that they cannot provide total protection from SARS-CoV-2.

He adds that wearing a mask should also be followed by other instructions on social distancing and hand washing.

 

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