In a nation where wearing a mask to protect the health of others and ourselves is a highly politicized topic of debate, we must all become more diligent in deciphering facts from fiction regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. However, misinformation and the disorganized response of our administration have made it difficult to know exactly what to do during these unprecedented times. Despite the novelty of this virus, the CDC and other health experts still agree that wearing face masks is a vital part of the fight to slow the spread of COVID-19. The Colorado Black Health Collaborative also agrees that wearing masks is very important.
The N95 Masks most effectively prevent viral spread. They are designed to create a seal around the nose and mouth and filter 95% of small airborne particles. However, true N95 Masks are difficult to come by for non-health care providers as they are sorely needed for hospitals and clinics serving COVID-19 patients. Therefore, the (Center for Disease Control) CDC does not recommend them for general use.
Surgical masks are more generally used amongst the public compared to N95 Masks. These are the light blue pleated masks you’ve likely seen many others use. These disposable masks do not create a seal over the nose and mouths, letting 30% of outside air moving around the sides of the mask. About 70% of outside air moves through the woven layers. These layers filter out large particles in the air. Therefore, surgical masks can protect you and others by reducing exposure to potentially infected saliva and respiratory secretions. Similar to the N95 Mask, there are some shortages for the surgical mask as well. Consequently, the CDC does not currently recommend these for general use either.
Importantly, cloth masks are recommended by the CDC for public health efforts. They are easy to either design yourself or find online. When these types of masks create a seal and have multiple functional layers, they are more likely to reduce viral spread. So, choose wisely!
One thing everyone does agree on is that masks should be a part of the fight against COVID-19. The act of wearing them alone will not bring us back to normal, we must use them in conjunction with other preventative measures, such as staying 6 feet apart from others and good handwashing.
Everyone one should wear a mask except: (per CDC recommendations)
- Children under the age of 2.
- Anyone who has trouble breathing.
- Anyone who is unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance.
Collectivism, not Individualism
Even with varying data on masks and COVID-19 transmission, it is important to remember the impact of community. The COVID-19 pandemic is a battle that we will not win unless everyone does their part to slow the spread. On a human level these efforts are activated by a strong sense of respect and care for those around you. Even those you might not know personally. This is especially vital for the Black Community that is being hit the hardest by this pandemic. The racism present in every sector of our society makes Black people the most vulnerable to the risk of contagion and subsequent death. Collective action is needed to mitigate these devastating effects.
Now, with the extra time we have received by staying home, is the opportunity to create stronger bonds with friends, family and neighbors. Quarantine allows us to sit with ourselves and reflect on what we want our lives to look like moving forward. Will it be the more fragmented version from before that allowed a disorganized pandemic response? Or will it be a collectivism that we now see clearly is vital for the health and safety of us all?
By Erin Sadler, CU undergraduate student