Are all Face Masks Capable of Preventing Spread of COVID-19?

Aside from washing of hands, using sanitisers and ensuring social distancing, wearing a face mask is one of the surest means health experts have advised to prevent the spread of the novel Coronavirus.

When Ghana recorded her first case in March this year, availability of face masks for use was uncommon. It somehow appeared a comfort good from an economist perspective. A comfort good is a good which isn’t a necessity, but gives enjoyment or utility, A comfort good may become a luxury, which to some extent, face masks became in Ghana, even though it was supposed to be a necessity for everyone in preventing the spread of the virus. Not long until then did local provision of masks emerge with an average cost pegged at GHC 10.00.

Tailors and seamstresses channeled their expertise on sewing masks in all forms and designs with variant fabrics.

The mask, which was hitherto sold at an average of GHC10.00  dropped to the extent that, 3 pieces were/are now sold for GHC5.00

The fabric varies as some are sewn from cotton, nylon, silk and others. The quality has obviously been compromised.

This called for a probe into the efficiency of these masks on the market and whether they all can actually prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Fact-checkghana.com has been speaking with the Head of Disease Surveillance at the Ghana Health Service (GHS), Dr. Badu Sarkodie to provide some insight on how effective these different masks are.

He indicated there are three kinds of masks precisely in Ghana, which are the cloth or fabric masks, surgical masks and the N95 masks.

He says the Fabric or cloth masks, which are locally sewn trap droplets that are released when the person wearing the mask sneezes, coughs or talks.

But “how it’s sewn also counts because, the difference in texture of the fabrics used determine their efficiency in fighting the virus. That is why we advised they sew in three layers to ensure it works effectively.”

“But you see people wearing one fabric for over a week and wouldn’t even wash it. It is not advisable. It’s supposed to be washed after each use and disposed after the third time but due to poverty, it doesn’t happen that way and such people put their lives at risk”, Dr. Sarkodie explained.

Keeping it for such periods without washing, according him means one is contaminating himself with droplets the mask sieved from other carriers to infect himself.

Cloth or fabric mask

Surgical masks are the ones we also call medical masks. They’re the ones with either blue or green colour with small white elastic strings.

Dr. Sarkodie says “they protect you from sprays or splashes that could enter the nose or mouth.”
“They sieve large particles and prevents transmission of droplets from the person wearing it. They’re however not reusable”, he added.

He went on to say “it is not so common on the streets because it is not reusable. You know the average Ghanaian wants something he can use for sometime rather than throwing it away after a single use.”

Surgical masks

Meanwhile, Dr. Sarkodie says the N95 masks provide a higher degree of protection than the other two because they can filter out both large and small particles when the wearer breathes.

“They’re called N95 masks because they block 95% of particles or liquids that may come in contact with the face and they’re the best and safest.”

“But they’re mostly for health workers rather than the public and are also for single use”, he disclosed.

N95 mask

Fact-checkghana furthered its checks and disclosed, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been unequivocal in its endorsement of mask wearing in preventing the spread of the pandemic.

The Director of CDC, Robert Redfield, recently said he believed the outbreak could be under control in four to six weeks if “we could get everyone to wear a mask right now.”

But they later announced that there is one type of mask that fails to protect others from the spread of Covid, and unfortunately, it’s a popular design.

According to the CDC, the one mask you should remove from your COVID-fighting arsenal is anything that has a valve or vent.

In its daily updated mask guidelines, it states the “CDC does not recommend use of masks or cloth masks for source control if they have an exhalation valve or vent.”

The organization further explained its warning, highlighting why this type of mask puts others at risk. “The purpose of masks is to keep respiratory droplets from reaching others to aid with source control. However, masks with one-way valves or vents allow air to be exhaled through a hole in the material, which can result in expelled respiratory droplets that can reach others,” the CDC cautioned.

When Fact-checkghana asked the GHS Director on the safety of Ghanaians on these masks with one way valve or vent, he said “there are no masks with one valve or vent in Ghana” and the ones available are those he explained to the team.

Also with the cloth masks, “that is why we advise they’re sewn in three layers. But unfortunately, many have flouted the directive, thinking they merely have to put on something to cover their nose and mouth.”

However, according to the CDC, there is one exception to the rule: “An N95 respirator with an exhalation valve does provide the same level of protection to the wearer as one that does not have a valve,” the organization’s website notes.

This is the only mask with a valve considered safe enough to maintain a sterile field and prevent viral transmission.

The public is hereby advised on how to use and treat these masks, in order not to endanger their lives and others in their usage.

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Supported by STAR Ghana Foundation with funding from UKAID and the European Union

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