Where folks do NOT shelter in place, will a mask help?

Here in Iowa, we are one of the few states without a shelter-in-place order. The governor’s guidelines are reactive, not proactive, and she is waiting until her metrics are reached to rein us in. These metrics include

  • Percentage of population greater than 65 years of age
  • Percent of identified cases requiring hospitalization
  • Infection rate per 100,000 population in the past 14 days
  • Number of outbreaks in long-term care facilities

As some have said, she is using the canary in a coal mine approach and our population is a the canary.

People in Iowa are NOT doing a great job of social distancing. Many of us see or hear of groups out and about, parties, and even trips to the church for coffee, And a friend recently had his/her business broken into by unsavory types roaming about. It’s like the wild west here. I’m lucky I can shelter in place at home, despite the 60 + assignments coming in each week. Going out is pretty terrifying. To this end, I decided to wear a dust mask when I walk my puppy. I have allergies anyway and the mask can also scare people away from me. Lord knows, they are not getting the message otherwise.

Professional masks are for the healthcare folks right now. Providers wear an N95 mask to protect themselves and a surgical mask over it to protect it. Although there isn’t a consensus yet, the virus appears able to spread as an aerosol, tiny particles like a mist which hang, not only on a cough or sneeze, but even when talking. This excellent article has all the in and out of aerosols vs droplets. And it makes a good case for why we should all wear masks to protect others.

It’s terrifying here and I have to ask: How helpful are non-medical masks? A study from several years back noted that they are half as effective as medical grade masks. Which in my opinion, is twice as good as nothing!

Being a chemist, I like protective equipment anyway. It makes me feel at home. Not to mention, I have always had ample saliva–I might as well keep it to myself.

My local hospital has distributed this pattern and are asking people to donate masks, making sure they have a tissue pocket to give one more layer of protection. This site recommends putting a vacuum cleaner filter in the tissue pocket.

One source recommends two layers of high quality cotton (as in quilts) with ties. “You have to use relatively high-quality cloth,” Dr. Scott Segal, chair of anesthesiology at Wake Forest Baptist Health in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, said. Thread count should be at least 180. Hold the material up to the light to make sure nothing peaks through. If light can get through, so can a tiny virus. The article mentions inserting flannel can be a good option. I went through my meager stash of material and found that t-shirts are not “high quality” and neither was my favorite bandana, or any of my scarves. My trusty potholder didn’t let any light through and smells like cookies! But would it be stifling? Not to mention, a potholder wouldn’t fit securely across the face. Look here for guidelines on masks, including taking them on and off properly.

dust mask
bandana
potholder

Wash in a pillow case with hot water but don’t bleach your mask. A friend passed along the advice to have one side different than the other to make sure you know which one to put face first. And don’t use them when wet. This site has more advice, including limiting time worn to 2 hours at a stretch.

As for hospital masks, we need them. Production is ramping up. Companies are making masks in my home state and nearby my home town of Pella.

Wearing a mask is polite–it keeps your germs from the outside. Just don’t let it make you feel invincible. The efficacy of masks has not been proven. And I for one, plan to shelter, no matter what my governor says.

With warmer weather ahead, some models predict, unlike the flu, that the virus will spread more. Remember, the only way to stop it is to remove the host. That’s me and you.

3 thoughts on “Where folks do NOT shelter in place, will a mask help?

  1. Walter Cannon

    I thought a virus was a nanoparticle observable under an electron microscope. N-95 masks are designed to filter out bacteria which are 10s of times larger. Cotton fabric is even more porous. Are we to believe that these viruses, hanging on to moisture particles in our coughs and sneezes not to mention the breath in our speech, will be stopped by cotton masks or even N-95 marks? What’s the science here?

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