The one big change COVID-19 has brought to our lives is that of using masks. There are significant other changes, but the mask is one of the important measures for safety as well. Whether governments implement lock-down or not, all of us realize the importance of keeping a safe distance and wearing a mask in public.
In India, COVID-19 started in the month of March. Both online and offline stores ran out of sanitizers and N-95 masks. During the first week of March, many of my colleagues were browsing all major online stores for masks. Some of them bought in hundreds. It was a time when none of us knew clearly where we were heading with the crazy COVID-19 around.
Wearing a mask is unheard of in India. Some cities in India are highly polluted, yet we rarely see people wearing masks. Masks are only made for medical professionals. When the number of cases were rising, stores just ran out of all medical masks. Anti-pollution masks were unavailable as well. People just grabbed whatever they could. In all this, I was not at all interested in buying a mask.
Some questions that people started asking themselves later were bothering me back then.
Some day, we may not have any masks to wear? So, should we just roam around without protecting ourselves?
If everyone uses medical masks, what would our front line workers wear?
The most important question. Are these masks biodegradable? How harmful would these be for mother earth?
Isn’t a cloth mask good enough?
For a few days I just lived with these questions. I never bought masks. During the initial 15-20 days, I remember using a large hand kerchief folded and supported by my hairbands. It might sound silly to be engineering something out of what we have, but clearly I did not want to use something that could cause harm to mother earth.
With a cloth mask I saw many advantages. It would be more comfortable than the regular masks. I would be reusing some old unused cloth lying at home to make masks. They are washable and could be completely sanitized. Then, why not?
A few days later, lot of organisations including WHO started requesting people who are not infected to use face masks. I browsed a lot and read through many websites on how to make a mask which could protect me from infection. The below is what made sense
- Make a 3 layered mask
- Thick cotton cloth for the most closest layer to the face
- A filter like material for the middle layer (I used the semi-nylon bags with pores for this)
- A non-absorbent outer layer
I found some You tube videos on how to make masks, followed the instructions to sew and voila, the mask was ready. It took one mask to get to perfection, but there they were, custom made colorful masks. We can make them with more fun patterns for kids. We don’t have to feel like patients wearing gaudy and single color masks.
So… Is a cloth mask effective?
It is not an equivalent to N-95 mask but close when it comes to protection. They may not effectively stop the virus from getting absorbed, but would certainly block the exhalation of droplets with virus. That is good enough if all of us religiously wear layered masks. Personally I wore only the masks I made all these days when I went out. I don’t even have a surgical or medical mask at home and sometimes wonder if I should buy some. Thankfully, the need hasn’t come yet 🙂
As businesses are resuming and employees are returning to work, masks can play a pivotal role in blocking or at the least help reduce the spread of the virus, especially from asymptomatic carriers. The more people wear masks, the less viral particles would make it to the space around them, decreasing exposure and risk.