We’ve been living with the coronavirus pandemic for a year now. Our concierge doctors are seeing more and more claims regarding special types of face masks that will supposedly offer more protection from the virus.
We’re also getting more questions from our patients on this subject. Especially now that at least three variants (mutations) of the coronavirus have been identified as circulating in this country.
So we thought we’d tell you what we know to date on how to find the best face mask.
Manufacturers have been producing so-called “anti-microbial” facemasks for months now. They claim to offer greater protection against the coronavirus. In Europe, brands such as Under Armour, Burberry, and Diesel have been marketing masks said to reduce viral activity that comes in contact with their masks.
Experts are dubious about these assertions. In the U.S., firms are prohibited from making claims like this without providing evidence. Neither the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) nor the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has so-far approved anti-microbial masks to prevent the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
Amy Price, a senior research scientists at Stanford Anesthesia Infomatics and Media (AIM) lab, advised the World Health Organization (WHO) on its face mask guidelines.
“The challenge is that sometimes claims are made, but they aren’t tested on the actual masks with the actual virus,” she told CNN on a video conference call. “So they’re like gimmicks.”
Dr. Charlaynn Harris, Ph.D., MPH, senior epidemiologist at Unity Band, makers of a wearable COVID-19 tracker, told POPSUGAR she wouldn’t recommend any mask not fully vetted by the FDA.
“I do feel as though these products could lead to false security for the wearer,” she added. “Claims of being antimicrobial lead the wearer to believe they have an added barrier against this highly infectious pathogen.”
What about copper-infused masks, which are also selling briskly?
It turns out that it is true that copper kills viruses and other pathogens. When both bacteria and viruses come into contact with copper, they are killed “very quickly and without mercy,” Dr. Michael Schmidt told The Washington Post recently. Schmidt, professor of microbiology and immunology at the Medical University of South Carolina, studies the use of copper in health-care settings.
Comparing the reaction to “an exploding grenade,” he said viruses are no match for copper.
“The oxygen shrapnel first destroys the envelope,” of the viruses, he told The Post. “Then, additional oxygen radicals come in to destroy the viral RNA, and if the instruction set is not intact, you have no virus.”
There is a catch with copper-infused masks, however. The particles of the virus must actually come in contact with the copper strands within the mask. If it doesn’t touch the copper, it remains intact, and active. So copper-infused masks are still no guarantee of safety.
One side note on copper supplements, which are also being touted to protect from the coronavirus: Don’t take them. According to the Office of Dietary Supplements at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), ingesting high amounts of copper can lead to liver damage. And such unfortunate gastrointestinal side effects as abdominal pain, cramps, nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting.
Remember that the coronavirus is transmitted primarily through the air, by both infected droplets and aerosols. This is why it so easily and stealthily passes from person to person.
And we now have three confirmed variant strains of SARS-CoV-2 in the U.S. All of which are far more transmissible than the strain we’ve been fighting for the last year.
Therefore, some experts have begun recommending that everyone wear not just one but two masks.
“The reason for that is you do wind up getting more filtration of viral particles,” Dr. Dave Hnida told CBS Denver. “It becomes more of an obstacle course for the viral particle to make its way from the air into your nose and throat and then into your lungs.”
We still have a shortage of medical-grade N95 masks, which filter out 95 percent of pathogens. So wearing two masks at the same time can offer better protection. In fact, wearing two can offer nearly the same protection as the vaccines, according to Joseph Allen, an associate professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of public Heath.
“A surgical mask with a cloth mask on top of it can get you over 91 percent removal efficiency for particles,” he told CNN.
Fit is key
Whichever type of mask you choose, if it doesn’t fit properly, it won’t work to protect you or others.
The CDC offers the following guidelines to find the best face mask for you:
- Choose masks that have two or more layers of washable, breathable fabric.
- Make sure the mask fits snugly against the sides of your face and doesn’t have gaps.
- Do not choose masks that have exhalation valves or vents. These allow virus particles to escape.
- Completely cover your nose and mouth. Note: If you have a beard, the mask cannot completely cover your nose and mouth. You might want to consider shaving it off until masks are no longer necessary.
- If you wear a gaiter, use one with two layers, or fold it to make two layers.
- If you wear glasses, find a mask that fits closely over your nose. Or find one with a nose wire to limit fogging.
- Face shields are not recommended.
- Scarves, ski masks, and balaclavas are not substitutes for masks. Wear a mask under each of these items.
Remember, the only mask that works—not only to protect yourself but also to help stop the spread of the virus—is the one that is worn consistently.