With the spread of the Chinese coronavirus around the world, the trend of wearing protective masks to protect against disease has spread worldwide too. We’re all used to seeing pictures of streets in Asia in which everyone is wearing a surgical mask or other sort of face protection. But now the wearing of masks is spreading to the West too.
Sales of protective masks in the US have spiked, so much so that hardware stores, pharmacies, and even online marketplaces are sold out. While some of the masks are undoubtedly being purchased by Chinese people shipping them back to their families in China, many others are being purchased by Americans just in case the coronavirus begins to spread in this country.
Protective masks come with ratings, both with a letter and a number, such as N95 or P99. The letter ratings are N, R, and P. N means that the mask is not resistant to oil, R means that the mask is resistant to oil, and P means that the mask is oil-proof. The numbers you’ll most commonly see are 95, 97, 99, and 100. That is the percentage of particles of 0.3 micron size that the filter is able to block.
It’s important to remember that masks will eventually clog up after use, generally after 8 hours of continuous use. After that they must be disposed of. Breathing will also be more difficult while wearing a mask, because significant amounts of air are being blocked. Those with heart conditions or breathing difficulty may want to find other means of protecting themselves.
It should also be pointed out that wearing protective masks isn’t completely effective against preventing the spread of viruses. If you wear a mask, then take it off with ungloved hands and toss it in your kitchen trash can, odds are that you’ll still end up contaminating yourself with viruses. The masks are most effective at screening droplets in the air, such as those resulting from coughing and sneezing, and are effective at keeping the wearer from contaminating others. You’ll still want to practice proper hygiene, such as washing hands. And if the coronvirus outbreak becomes really bad, you’ll want to self-quarantine and eliminate any unnecessary trips outside your home.