Actually, it’s not you that your face mask protects at all, is it?
It’s other people.
To prevent your exhalations, plus any coughs or sneezes, from getting out into the open air where others might breathe them in. Your exhaust.
A preventative, not a protective.
Your mask can’t really protect you anyway. Not even the highest level N97 mask, known here in the UK as the FFP3 – “FFP” for Filtering Face Piece, “3” to indicate maximum protection from viruses and bacteria.
Because it’s not just the moist tissue of your nose and mouth that Covid-19 might use to enter your body.
It’s your eyes. Constantly moistened by tears for lubrication. And linked to your nose directly by your tear ducts – Covid-19’s fast track entry to your respiratory system.
Yes, your mask does keep out the exhalations of others. The moist air particles directly from the lungs – and the globules of spit and mucus exploding with coughs and sneezes. These particles are fairly large and even an ordinary piece of cloth will stop them – protecting you, and the best protection you can provide for those around you.
Protection for others
Which should be why you’re wearing a mask in the first place – to prevent yourself from infecting others. You might be a carrier, or the virus may still be incubating – so nobody knows it’s there, not even you.
But Covid-19 itself is much smaller than any of these particles. A single virus might be as small as 0.3 microns, many thousand times smaller than a human hair. That’s way smaller than any filter your mask might have. Smaller even than the HEPA filters in many hospital HVAC systems.
So small in fact, that once it’s airborne, it’s so light it stays there. Remember those sand clouds from the Sahara desert? Grains of sand, right? Huge by comparison. Heavier than air, but borne 2,000 miles by strong wind directly from Africa to smother every car in the country with red grit and dust.
Always in the air around you
Covid-19 of course is very much smaller than that. Too light to come down – riding every swirl and eddy of air, possibly never descending at all. But looking for any surface to catch and cling onto – hair, skin, clothing – not just tables and floors.
AND, as we pointed out earlier, the moist tissue of your eyes. Swept regularly with tears across both retinas by your eyelids and down to your nose – a highly efficient way of invading your metabolism. Sure, these particles are small enough to get through your mask, but most of the time that cloth will keep out the larger and more dangerous ones.
Your eyes, unfortunately, have no such protection.
You need glasses
Not unless you’re also wearing a visor, or safety glasses. Which means the best protection of all might be a full-face motorcycle helmet with the visor down – not exactly practical when you’re walking round Tesco.
But check out the pictures of medical teams you see in the media. Notice that in high risk areas, every medic is wearing a face mask AND safety glasses – or in some cases, full body protection.
There is an upside however. Single particles are rarely able to invade through your eyes one at a time. They have to gang up together – say ten of them or more – to be able to do their dirty work. Unlikely unless they’re in a globule formed from a cough or sneeze, and then you’re vulnerable.
Keep your distance
And this is why social distancing makes so much sense. A good belly-wrenching sneeze might explode germs as far as 26 feet. Safe enough if everyone’s wearing face masks to protect nose and mouth – but much more of a hazard to uncovered eyes.
The biggest hazard of all though is ourselves. Because remember that other precaution about always washing our hands? Like it or not, we are always involuntarily touching our faces, an unconscious reflex we might do 3,000 times a day.
Touching our eyes is totally natural, but for Covid-19 it’s an accelerated highway to getting into our bodies. But put some glasses on, even those cheap plastic ones that workmen use, and you’ll be a lot better protected.
Stay safe and well – and don’t take chances.
Back Off, Bacteria! is the blog of Hyper Hygiene Ltd, supplier of what we’re convinced is the most effective health protection system in the world. A fully mobile, all-automatic Hypersteriliser machine mists up workplaces with ionised hydrogen peroxide, spreading everywhere and eliminating all bacteria, viruses and fungi.
Hypersteriliser units are supplied to businesses and institutions across the UK, notably the haematology and other critical units at Salford Royal Hospital, Greater Manchester; Doncaster & Bassetlaw Hospital; South Warwickshire Hospital; Coventry & Warwickshire Hospital; and Queen Victoria Hospital, East Grinstead.
The Halo Hypersteriliser system achieves 6-log Sterility Assurance Level – 99.9999% of germs destroyed. It is the only EPA-registered dry mist fogging system – EPA No 84526-6. It is also EU Biocide Article 95 Compliant.