New Delhi: An uninfected person with no face covering can be infected if within 6 feet of an infected person for 15 minutes, shows the data published by ACGIH’s Pandemic Response Task Force. ACGIH is the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists, a charitable scientific organisation advancing occupational and environmental health. The data on ACGIH’s website further states it takes 27 minutes for someone to get the infection if both – infected and uninfected people – are wearing a cloth face covering. The time can further increase to 2,500 hours if both persons are wearing a fit-tested N95 Filtering Facepiece Respirator (FFR).
Does this mean everyone should wear an N95 mask especially during the third COVID wave in India which is said to be driven by the Omicron variant? Banega Swasth India team spoke to experts to find an answer to it.
Any Mask Is Better Than No Mask: Dr Chandrakant Lahariya, Epidemiologist
Dr Chandrakant Lahariya, a consultant physician and Epidemiologist based in New Delhi believes that any mask is better than no mask which means even a cloth mask is better and provides some sort of protection. Dr Lahariya said,
A well-fitted cloth mask is really a mask and provides fairly decent protection. A matching cloth mask that comes with your apparel might not be the right mask since it’s usually made of a single layer. The thickness of the mask matters so even if you are buying a cloth mask, opt for a two-ply or three-ply face mask.
Resonating with Dr Lahariya, Dr Ashutosh Shukla, Senior Director – Internal Medicine & Medical Advisor at Max Hospital in Gurugram said a cloth mask reduces some emissions, especially larger droplets, from an infected person’s nose and mouth.
But a cloth mask offers little protection for the uninfected wearer as the material does not significantly filter small particles. A cloth mask does not provide effective protection from Omicron because it travels with small particles. Remember, several factors contribute to the effectiveness of cloth face masks, these include the type of material used, design and fit, as well as the frequency of washing, said Dr Shukla.
Light Test To Check The Effectiveness Of A Cloth Mask
Dr Tushau Prasad, Consultant Emergency Medicine at Wockhardt Hospitals, Mira Road, Mumbai suggests conducting a light test to check the effectiveness of a cloth mask. Dr Prasad recommends using a flashlight in front of the face mask to see if the light passes through it. Ideally, the light shouldn’t be able to pass through the mask.
Dr Shukla shared another light test where researchers used a tailored LED lighting system and a high-speed camera to film the dispersal of airborne droplets produced by a healthy person with no respiratory infection, during speaking, coughing, and sneezing while wearing different types of masks.
The video recording showed that the 3-ply surgical face mask was the most effective at reducing airborne droplet dispersal, although even a single layer cloth face covering reduced the droplet spread from speaking. The recording showed that a double layer covering was better than a single layer in reducing the droplet spread from coughing and sneezing, said Dr Shukla.
Cloth Mask Or N95 Mask, Fitting Is The Key
Experts believe that be it a cloth mask or surgical mask or N95 mask, the fit of it plays a key role in protecting an individual from catching the virus. A mask should fit well on the face, covering the nose, mouth and chin. Elaborating on the same, Dr Prasad said,
Because of frequent use, masks tend to become loose and continue to slip down the face. If there are gaps, respiratory droplets can enter through them. Hence, it’s important to wear a snuggly fit mask.
Dr Prasad believes that the surrounding environment also plays a crucial role in the transmission of the virus. If an individual is travelling or at a place where they might interact with a lot of people, then it is recommended to wear a 3-ply mask. Again, it should be well-fitted, leaving no room for the virus to leak either outwards (for an infected person) or inwards (for the uninfected person).
Which Mask To Wear When And How?
Dr P Jagadeesh Kumar, Consultant Pulmonologist at Apollo Hospitals in Seshadripuram, Bangalore recommends N95 mask which filters out 95 per cent of the harmful particles or N99 mask as they are fit tested. As per ACGIH, there are only 1-10 per cent chances of inward and outward leakage in the case of an N95 mask. But, if one does not have access to an N95 or N99 mask, they can wear a surgical or medical mask. However, surgical masks have poor fitting and 50 per cent chance of leakage.
A surgical mask can be made of good, three-ply filtering material but is not made to seal the face well. It leaves large gaps between the edges of the mask and the face, through which virus-carrying particles can be exhaled or inhaled. One way to improve the fit of a surgical mask is double-masking, that is wearing a cloth mask that can fit snugly on your face over a surgical mask, to reduce gaps, said Dr Shukla.
Dr Prasad adds that if someone is COVID positive, they should wear a surgical mask and discard it regularly. Emphasising on closing the source of the virus and protecting people, Dr Prasad said,
Coughing and shouting can result in the exhalation of respiratory droplets which continue to hang in the air for quite some time. If an uninfected person will enter an infected individual’s room, they might catch those droplets. Hence, both the infected person and caregivers living under the same roof should wear a mask.
NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via the Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ population, indigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.