Our crisis of inertia as revealed by our continuing reliance on cloth masks
There was so much terrible messaging about masks early on; I definitely remember stuff going around about how even N95 masks weren’t that effective, regular folks didn’t know how to use them properly and effectively, and anyway, we have to save them all for frontline medical workers. Those ideas clearly took hold!
In Switzerland, where I live, the government first told the media and the public that masks were useless and ineffectual. For more than 3 months after the first lockdown, i.e. until the summer of 2020, that version did not change. It turned out that they unfortunately decided to say that to keep the insufficient numbers of masks available in their storage - at the beginning of the pandemic - for health care workers. Not clear if they were “right” (from a HC system perspective) or if a more transparent policy would have been more effective.
I've been finding real 3M N95 masks on eBay, and KN 95's are everywhere it seems. But to your point, there is a crisis of confidence on the masks - are they fake, are they not, etc? Also to add to this, people (who so far have avoided the virus) keep doing what they have been doing (cloth masks, etc) because it's working, right?
The best we could do here (northwest Montana) was plenty of homemade cloth masks, mostly from retired nurses so at least the nose part seems to fit snugly, with backups of paper masks from Costco. I haven't seen a KN95 or similar in I don't know how long, and Costco no longer had the paper masks when I went there this week. I'll take those affordable KN95s!
Mostly we just don't go out very much, and double-mask at the grocery store. But we have that privilege, since my husband and I both work from home and I'm homeschooling the kids.
And then there are those PM2.5 filters which never get mentioned anywhere. I tack a layer of HEPA vacuum bag cloth to the outside of those and put them into my cloth masks, but it feels like superstition.
I wanted to echo your words “It’s all tragic.” It seems like the right measure of the size/scope of the mountain of big list of problems right in front of us now. Thanks for your attention to the details. Much appreciated.
See https://www.3m.com/3M/en_US/company-us/all-3m-products/~/3M-Particulate-Respirator-8293-P100-20-EA-Case/?N=5002385+3294776418&rt=rud for an example of desirable features on a high filtration mask. nasal clip, inner foam lining, adjustable 1/2" elastic head straps, P100 filter, exhalation port. To protect others, cover the port with your surgical mask. If only non-ported masks are available, you will lose many who won't tolerate the heat/humidity inside the mask (and their skin won't like it either). In a dry environment, you do give up humidity in the mask and lose some of the natural defenses which is what happens when the naso-pharynx and respiratory tree becomes dehydrated. The perfect mask for a large droplet/aerosol respiratory pandemic doesn't seem to exist in the simple 'respiratory' mask category. Half-mask and full mask are good and better, but the aesthetics! Anyway the point is all masks are not the same and more work needs to be done so the mask meets the task. Masks that protect the user are the only way out of this pandemic. All protective equipment for individual users should be part of a PPE kit that everyone has and can be used when the next bug attacks. Nobody wants to go through this again.
IIRC the widely distributed masks in Taiwan are not N95 of KN95. Then again they don’t have much domestic spreading.
I pay a premium price here for REAL N95 masks made by a little company here in Minnesota called 3M. Can anybody, including the author, confirm for me that cheaper KN95 masks are legit and work? If so what brand is NOT some knock-off junk? Thanks.
Not immediately related to this piece, but I feel like we'd be better served advocating for a source-control mindset in general rather than an avoidance one. I think that it's easier to understand and practice safe behaviors if one operates as if they have the virus (and don't want to spread it) than operating as if the virus is "out there" and try to avoid it--or as is often the case, convince oneself they are in a safe environment.
The 1/8" soft inner padding is malleable and helps obtain a good seal. The adjustable elastic straps help find the appropriate amount of tension to aid seal and prevent skin abrasions/ulcers. Both make the masks less uncomfortable. Over a relatively short time, the mask settles in. Don't be in a hurry to don your mask. Your all-day-long assignment is to maintain a perfect seal. If you let up for a minute or two, you may be dead in three weeks. We need a billion or more of several types of masks. N95 masks could be distributed at vaccination sites, for the patient and their family. The 15 minute observation period can be used to educate the person regarding mask fit and use, strategies for home ventilation, humidity, and air filtration, the need to obtain a BMI under 30 and definitely under 40. We cannot allow ourselves to wait for covid to 'go away'. We can't wait until we have 10,000 deaths per day. 330,000,000 is a lot of people.