By Dr. Chitra Selvaraj
A question arises – are the masks that people are required to wear in many states helpful in protecting wearers against the coronavirus?
According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, at least at one point in this evolving saga, there is little reason to wear masks. They do not offer much personal protection from getting infected.
See video below.
Let us explore the actual nature of the spreading of the virus to analyze whether masks can help us.
Below is a video of an experiment done in a Japanese lab that shows how microdroplets stay in the air around us from an infected person, when the person coughs, sneezes, or even talks loudly.
The person could be a carrier and because he/she is asymptomatic, may not even know that he/she is a carrier.
When someone is a carrier, even talking loudly releases microdroplets containing millions of viruses into the immediate environment and anyone in proximity could inhale these viruses. It’s not known how much must be inhaled to contract an infection.
As you have seen in the video above, the microdroplets are 1/100th the size of a millimeter and smaller.
Here is the point: The masks or bandanas that people wear clearly do not ensure a complete seal required to block these tiny droplets measuring 0.001mm and smaller.
To the naked eye, a mask may appear to be a good seal, but the droplets are much smaller than the diameter of a hair. The space between the mask and the skin is very large to the droplets.
If a single strand of hair can easily pass through the space between your mask and your skin, then certainly the desired seal to block out the microdroplets that carry the virus has not been achieved. Facial hair that is in the way of the mask also does not permit a perfect seal.
Even not shaving for a day, can prevent a complete seal of even a well fitted N95 mask.
One way to check a good seal of the mask is to first make sure it’s fitted well. Then spray a scented aerosol in the air. If you can smell the fragrance, then the seal that is required is not achieved.
An aerosol also has tiny microdroplets similar to the microdroplets containing the virus. If the aerosol carrying the scent can pass through to inside your mask, then the microdroplets containing the virus will also definitely infiltrate your breathing zone.
Without achieving a perfect seal, droplets can easily infiltrate the breathing zone, and your chances of exposure to the virus are not reduced significantly. With a perfect fit, where the air has to pass through a filter, there are greater chances of filtering out the virus, as seen in the diagram below:
Another way to know if you have a perfect seal is to see how easily you can breathe. If you have achieved a perfect seal with your bandana, then there would be very little gaseous exchange, and you would have probably used up all the oxygen in the breathing zone that is not circulated/replenished. If you experience no such breathing difficulty, then you do not have the desired seal.
So the next question is how then do I breathe? Clearly this represents the whole problem with masks. If you can breathe easily, then you do not have a seal that protects you from microdroplets and obviously if you cannot breathe easily, how do you go out and perform your duties while wearing a properly sealed protective mask?
This obviously leads to the next question:, ‘Do I really need to wear a mask?”
If you are a health care worker and come into close proximity to COVID-19 positive patients who you must interact with, hence coming into contact with their secretions/fluids, then you really need much more then just a mask. For this purpose, a complete body seal is best. Their personal protective equipment [PPE] should be elaborate and when properly protected they wear a mask in combination with a shield, hood or respirator that filters up to 0.007 microns.
Infection control is a science in itself and has changed since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Healthcare professionals throughout the world are receiving training on the new methods of donning and doffing PPE, specific to preventing contamination by COVID-19.
Here are some examples of a perfect seal achieved by high-risk healthcare professionals with PPE worn in combination with masks.
Social distancing and staying at home as much as possible reduces our exposure to the virus. When we do go to stores, we are required to maintain a distance of six feet. This ensures that if someone is a carrier, and if they cough, the big droplets that typically travel less than 6 feet fall to the ground.
But the microdroplets, as seen in the video simulation in the Japanese lab, and in the picture above, travel greater distances and linger around. This is just with one cough. If someone is infected, they’ll probably cough in intervals, and every time they cough or even breathe heavily, they release more viruses into the environment. Most stores are not well ventilated, and the viruses in these microdroplets could linger for a long time.
Should we be exposed to the virus at a grocery store, the fact is we will almost just as readily contract the infection with the mask as without.
In my opinion, if the government were to impose wearing something, I would suggest gloves over masks.
The glove actually covers the entire hands, and at a store, we touch many things that could be infected. Wearing a glove actually does prevent contamination of our hands through coming into direct contact with the infected item.
Same principle at the gas station or anywhere we go. We do not know who was previously there.
As the COVID-19 strain lives for a few hours to a few days outside of a living host depending on the material, and if a COVID-19 positive person touched an item and left the virus there, wearing a glove will protect us from being contaminated provided that one does not touch their face with their gloves and properly disposes of them, then washes one’s hands properly.
At this point, many people have learned to wipe down everything they bring in to the home from the store, so, by wearing gloves, we have reduced or eliminated contamination through physical contact and disinfecting purchased items.
However, going back to the masks, the COVID-19 virus is transmitted not just through direct contact but through microdroplet transmission. To protect oneself from microdroplet infection, one must have a mask with a complete seal.
This can be accomplished only with respirator masks. It’s really not that easy to breathe with a respirator mask. People with COPD, asthma, pregnant women and people with other breathing disorders may not react well to breathing in a respirator mask, where one should manually suck in air only through the filter. There are battery operator hood respirators. It still doesn’t make breathing much easier and one must consult a physician before doing so.
Additionally, wearing complex respirator masks itself can cause other infections, if proper sterilization methods aren’t followed.
It is not practical, at least at this time, to have the entire population wearing respirator masks. So coming back to the original question: Do basic masks or the bandanas that people are wearing really help?
The answer is really not that much.
Masks/bandanas have so much leakage around the edges that they do not protect the wearer from fine particle contamination. Period.
But some think that a mask, while it may not protect the wearer, can protect others to a degree from infected persons.
If someone coughs or sneezes, most of the cough or sneeze is caught in the mask and others are not exposed to as much of it. This is especially good if social distancing with six feet cannot be followed.
This may the most valid reason to have people wear masks in public places where social distancing cannot be followed.
According to another school of thought, this is precisely why we have social distancing. When a person coughs or sneezes, the droplets travel less than 6 feet. The microdroplets, however, form a cloud and can travel around 26 feet.
The argument is, if someone is a silent carrier of COVID-19, they are asymptomatic. They do not cough and but can contaminate through direct contact. If they touch an item at the store, and we touch that same item, while the virus is still alive, we can contract it.
If they are symptomatic and are coughing, the mask only mitigates it to a certain extent; the microdroplets are in the air no matter what.
Another consideration is that wearing a mask is not good for the wearer, if the have COVID 19, as they keep the virus in the breathing zone all the time. It’s best to avoid going anywhere if one is coughing consistently.
It is simply a fact that masks serve a limited purpose since microdroplets are released no matter what since most masks have leakages around the edges.
Wearing gloves, and maintaining social distancing offers more protection than wearing a leaky mask.
I would certainly choose wearing gloves over a mask to protect myself if I were to choose only one.
Of course, generally speaking, wearing a mask can’t hurt. It may be to some degree a placebo, but on the other hand, it can’t hurt.
So why not wear one when you cannot practice social distancing until the pandemic passes?
And in the news, from teams of actual experts in relevant fields, based on research and field studies (this fits with the case tracking done in the US, Germany and China finding almost no examples of contact – or outdoor – transmission).
CDC now says coronavirus ‘does not spread easily’ via contaminated surfaces
And yes, there are a few known cases of contact transmission, so following proper hand sanitation procedures remains important, and there are situations in which gloves might be prudent – for instance, I follow an old military contaminated environment operation procedure when I go on the road and have to use highway rest stops, which I consider elevated risk because lots of travelers from all over may have touched door knobs and faucets (if not sensor-activated) in between cleanings. It involves wearing gloves in, taking them off carefully to do necessary business, and then putting them back on (finally to take them back off again at the car, and put them in a paper bag for 3 to 7 days for eventual re-use).
Masking, of course, remains important – and being sure not to touch masks or faces with hands.
Thank you, Chitra. Very well written and appreciate your medical knowledge.
Gloves make a lot of sense to me, too, bc the virus can live so long on surfaces w/o any indication it’s there but I never realized how much I rely on, enjoy tactile sensation and information until I started using them so much. Sucks.
…How do you feel about going barefoot? For “grounding” ?
And if you don’t put your feet near your face?
Miss you and think of you often! Praying for you both.
Masks AND gloves are best
Dear Chitra & Everyone,
You are failing to understand the basic Physical Science and Discrete Probability at play.
You assume a 1 micron water molecule the virus is attached to will magically travel through one of the 2-3 micron holes in the fabric mask or non p95 mask an individual is wearing.
Here are some variables and points you left out of your supposed theory:
1. Whatever fiber organic or synthetic the mask is made from such wool, cotton, silk, paper, nylon, lycra etc. will be dry. The molecule the virus is attached to is wet. Wet Molecules will form bonds with dry molecules.
Here is a corresponding article bolstering my point:
Particle Bounce During Filtration of Particles on Wet and Dry Filters: Aerosol Science and Technology: Vol 37, No 7
2. Additionally whatever fibers are present whether they be cotton nylon polyester silk rayon will all be carrying a charge, an electrical charge, which will cause attraction to a the passing molecule the virus is attached to.
Here is a corresponding article validating my point:
3. Statistically(discrete probability) the molecule caring the virus would have to make is through the infected persons mask then travel at least 3ft to 6ft and enter through the mask of the healthy individual. The odds of this happening are infinitesimal.
You don’t even mention the impact on the distance a droplet can travel because the mask actually “dampens the energy” of exhalation.
Please try to attempt to debate me in an intelligent manner or go home.
I will then expound on everything that I have mentioned. I will not waste anymore of my time on this issue unless there is a response. You thesis is asinine.
Chitra your lack of understanding of simple scientific concepts is appalling.
Did you graduate from a accredited university?
“Dr.” Chitra Selvaraj is “an Indian-trained dentist” ( https://www.niagarafallsreporter.com/Stories/2014/SEP23/ownersNote.html ) who apparently does not practice in the United States.
Meanwhile, from a microbiologist and a team of researchers, there’s this just out, that better quantifies the effectiveness of masks:
Surgical masks can reduce coronavirus spread by 75 percent: researchers
While that’s not a conclusive study, it’s performed by experts who understand disease modeling.
Here’s not merely an opinion, but a review of multiple works of research in the area:
Masks help stop the spread of coronavirus – the science is simple and I’m one of 100 experts urging governors to require public mask-wearing
Cloth masks may be less effective than surgical masks, but the research I’ve seen indicate their effectiveness is probably at least in the 40% to 50% range – and that is likely improving as designs and materials get better. That’s certainly a significant reduction in risk, compared to going without a mask.
All the research and case tracking studies show that airborne transmission – not contact – is the primary route of coronavirus infection. But there are known cases of contact transmission, so procedures to mitigate that including hand hygiene remain an important adjunct. And there are elevated risk situations and circumstances in which wear of gloves may be appropriate, such as when traveling, and unable to wash or sanitize hands frequently enough. There’s this from one of the country’s premiere medical centers – and an infectious disease specialist:
Why You Shouldn’t Wear Gloves to the Grocery Store
“* Wear a face mask – and do not touch the mask once it’s on your face.
* Sanitize your hands (if possible) when you transition to your car and immediately wash your hands when you get home after unloading.”
(note the similar argument – “But unfortunately most people aren’t wearing or disposing of their gloves correctly, which defeats the whole purpose” – but from an actual expert, in this case)
Why do Democrats want people to wear face masks?
Face masks cut off oxygen.
Without oxygen brain cells die.
Fewer brain cells mean more Democratic voters!
Shadow you are in the 3% demographic Coronavirus death rate.
A 3% chance of winning a million-dollar lottery is great!!!!
A 3 in 100 chance of dying of the Coronavirus is not so great.
Shadowstate, if the odds of dying from drinking a beer were 3 in 100 or the odds of dying in a car accident 3 in 100 both would be outlawed.
Do you not understand how serious things are? What don’t you get?
You’re fat and over 60. I mean no offense. I’m not much better off than you to be honest.
Our odds suck!
I work in a dialysis center where we dont have the luxury to debate whether to wear a mask. Today a COVID-positive patient returned after weeks in the hospital. Our policy is simple — everyone wears a mask.
what does wearing a face mask have to do with politics?
To single out individual measures and say they are useless is not useful. Taking several measures simultaneously to reduce the risk of virus transmission is the means of choice available. Safety glasses would be another option that is not recommended at present. But the most important thing is to keep your distance, wash your hands regularly and be careful not to touch your face, such as your mouth, nose or eyes. And to really keep this and to pay attention to it. Every disregard of these rules can lead to an infection, you have to be aware of that.
Thank you Chitra, for this measured and sound advice. I’m banking on the mask for inside supermarkets etc. because any reduction, even a 50% one, I feel, is better than nothing. I really dont want an attack of hay fever coughing for example, to terrorise anyone in a six feet radius of me, I wear my mask for others. Gloves, I agree, seem sensible at all times outside the home.
Do yourself a favor and do not wear gloves outside at all times. They do not protect you if you do so.
I mean, I have seen people using their cellphone while wearing them. Only use them when you are in direct contact with dangerous stuff and throw them away after that immediately. This is exactly what MDs are doing. They use a fresh pair of gloves for every patient and use them for a few minutes at a time.
On top of that, continuous usage of gloves will make your hands sweat and keep them warm, while the protective dead layer of skin cells becomes soft. This will be a perfect breeding ground for bacteria.
Ok, thanks for that.
Thank you Dr Salverage. I love those diagrams showing how useless the masks are. Now please don’t laugh, this is very serious because people are dying and being arrested on beaches, but when I seen the droplet diagram, it made me wonder if people can catch this by fart fumes. Dr. Should the government also make us wear protective underwear that catches the fumes just in case?
It’s okay – you’re masked already. Unless you’re a nudist. And don’t go commando – two layers is better than one.
Actually neither the mask nor the glove protect that much…
But they are necessary to reduce the risks.
The glove is there to avoid someone potentially sick to spread (litterally) the virus.
But if you aren’t sick, it’s partially usefull only as if you don’t do it properly, you’ll get the virus when you remove the mask anyway…
It’s once again simple to workaround the problem : CLEAN YOUR HANDS…
you remove the mask , put it to the washing machine, throw the gloves and immediatly go to clean your hands.
Result, close to zero chance to get the virus.
The virus isn’t volatile (much) so obviously ,the mask isn’t there to filter the air but to protect from virus projection.
But saying the mask are useless is criminal! as it does protect…but without the proper actions, it’s useless…
Thank you. There are studies and videos out of how a mask attenuates the projection cloud and it certainly reminds one not to touch major areas of the face where the virus can invade – nose and mouth. While gloves can reduce risk, you’re not catching the virus through your fingertips. Its when you stick your contaminated fingers in your face (that includes when you are wearing contaminated gloves). Also, viral load is significant – masks are blocking some portion of your exposure. In both directions.
Soap and water kill the virus. Block what you can (both for yourself and those around you), keep your fingers out of your face, and wash your hands.
Just what we need, another “expert.” LOL
better than an ingrate turnip tosser from the pit.