Pros and Cons of Cloth Face Masks in the Era of COVID-19
The CDC urges everyone to don a face mask when going out. Quite a few businesses, companies as well as states have made face-covering mandatory. With medical-grade masks earmarked for health care professionals and physicians, alternative options like disposable non-medical and cloth face masks are recommended for public use. Although cloth face masks might not be as effective in shielding the wearer in comparison to disposable masks, they are, nevertheless, offering some level of protection. Cloth face masks with heavily weaved fabric can help capture droplets from sneezes and coughs, shielding the wearer from these airborne particles. They sometimes also inadvertently further touching the face particularly the nose area when making adjustments. Hopefully, by now everyone understands the proper safety practices to take, but just as a reminder, let’s reiterate these points:
- Keep a space of 6 feet between you and other individuals.
- Regularly wash your hands and clothes, especially when coming home from outside errands, work, and public places.
- Cover the areas around your nose and mouth.
Disposable Masks are a Better Option
Before diving into the advantages and disadvantages of fabric-based masks, it is important to talk about disposable masks. There is no comparison between a cloth mask and a medical-grade mask, such as an N95 respirator. It could filter out both minute and significant particles whenever the wearer breathes, much more effectively than a cloth face mask. As its name implies, the mask is intended to block 95 percent of particles. Given the present acute lack of N95 masks for healthcare professionals, the general public should avoid stocking up on medical-grade disposable masks. Luckily, there are non-medical PPE masks, such as the NewRain KN95 Protective Masks on hand. These masks have KN95 ratings and can also filter out 95% of airborne particles. They are a much safer option as compared to a cloth face mask.
Pros and Cons of Cloth Face Masks
Cloth-based masks seem to offer a simpler solution in the absence of specialized masks, but it is important to know that along with benefits, they also have some shortcomings.
Advantages of Cloth Face Masks
Let’s take a look at the usefulness of fabric face masks first:
Cloth face masks do offer a bit of protection, as opposed to being completely unprotected. They slightly reduce the probability of getting a viral illness. These masks shield the wearer from directly coming into contact with the potential hazardous pathogens floating in the air to some extent.
When Social Distancing Isn’t Feasible:
CDC urges sporting fabric masks in public areas where it is not easy to observe social distancing, like in food markets and pharmacies. It stops the potential asymptomatic transmission from people who might be carrying the virus unknowingly.
They are inexpensive alternatives to disposable face masks that can be made with cheap, readily available materials. There are many stylish cloth face mask choices available as well.
Can be Made Quickly
Another advantage of cloth masks is that they don’t need an extended period or special machinery to make. They can be put together quickly if required.
Plenty of Material Options
Homemade masks can be crafted using a variety of materials and fabrics. Depending on the availability, one can use different types of fabrics, t-shirts, bandanas, etc., to put together a functioning facial mask.
Cons of Cloth Face Masks
Now that we have talked about the advantages of cloth masks, listed below are a few of the downsides:
Less Effective than Medical Masks
Homemade cloth face masks are not to be compared with disposable masks in terms of effectiveness. The stats about their ability to prevent transmission from infected patients are not reassuring. Nonetheless, both types of face masks do offer resistance to some level. Studies have shown that medical masks are over three times more efficient as compared to cloth face masks. However, the strength of masks directly depends on the observation of additional preventive measures, as listed by the CDC. A recent study, where over 1600 health care personnel across 14 hospitals were observed; found that the infection rate among cloth mask users was 13 times more than the medical mask users. Medical masks were able to filter 97% of the particles, while the cloth masks only managed 44%.
May Increase the Risk
Available evidence indicates that cloth face masks can also increase the possibility of contracting the virus because of fluid and moisture accumulation, and retention of the viral pathogens. The penetration of these pathogens through the fabric is noted to be very high. Therefore, their use is not encouraged as ordinary cloth fabric masks are not ideal for protection from respiratory viruses.
Health Hazards of Cloth Face Masks
The versatility of the material that can be used to make these masks is also one of their weak points. Textile materials can have harmful dyes and compounds, such as formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is an allergen which may irritate the wearer’s eyes, nose, lungs, and throat, or cause an asthma attack. Additionally, depending on the fabric type used, the cloth’s ability to filter small virus particles called “virions” varies making it difficult to say for certain that any cloth mask will suffice. [/av_textblock]