By Now You Should Be Wearing a Better Mask!

Cloth masks are better than nothing, but they shouldn’t be your go-to.


Every day, many Canadians slip a cloth mask on before they leave the house, then go to their jobs, do the shopping, or pick the kids up from school (where schools are open). Cloth masks are convenient, easy to wash, and come in a large variety of colours and patterns. They even have them in kids’ sizes.

But it’s past time for a better solution say the transmission experts. Cloth masks were only ever supposed to be a stopgap measure, so why are so many Canadians still wearing them?

By now we know that not all masks were created equally, and sure, we know that there was a frightening shortage of medical masks for healthcare workers early on in the pandemic. But now there are many possibilities available and just in time because we’re about to have to stave off a new variant of the virus, known as the B.1.1.7 lineage. This variant is believed to be about 50 to 70 percent more transmissible than earlier strains of the virus. 

The prime method of virus transmission is through the droplets from our mouths—droplets that fly out when we speak, cough and sneeze. Some of these droplets become tiny particles that can easily be inhaled by people in close proximity. That’s why doctors and nurses who work with virus patients wear gear referred to as “personal protective equipment,” or PPE, which maintains very strict standards and recommends that masks (or “respirators”) should have a 95 per cent filtration efficiency. High-quality, 3-layer surgical masks are also considered effective.

Masks are an important part of the battle against this new variant because they decrease transmission by reducing the number of infectious particles spread by a mask wearer and by reducing the amount that a mask wearer inhales. 


Results of Study About How Mask Wearing Alone Can Curb Transmission

To better understand what level of mask-wearing is needed to curb a pandemic, a group of 19 experts recently undertook a study that looked at a range of mathematical models to determine the most effective if most people always wore a mask in public. 

The study utilized the premise that infectious diseases have a reproduction rate called “R.” For example, if the R happens to be 1.0, that means the average infected person infects one other person. We know that the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic had an R of 1.8—or one infected person infected almost two others. We know that this pandemic’s rate, without masks, is approximately 2.4. An infectious disease is determined to die out if its R falls under 1.0. The smaller the number, the faster the outbreak disappears.

The effectiveness of mask-wearing depends on three things: the basic reproduction number (R), of the virus in a community; masks’ efficacy at blocking transmission; and the percentage of people wearing masks.

The test models revealed that if 80 percent of people wear masks that are 60 percent effective, it is possible to get to an effective R of less than one and bring a halt to the spread of the disease. Add physical distancing in combination with mask use and it’s even more powerful! Many experts have been urging a switch to better-grade masks as soon as possible. 

N95 and KN95 face respirators are the most effective in preventing spread. That’s because both an N95 or KN95 mask can filter out and capture at least 95% of airborne particles, hence the name. Its five layers of protection and tight seal on the nose and mouth protects the wearer from inhaling and exhaling tiny airborne particles, which means that you can protect others from becoming infected while protecting yourself at the same time.