Four potential consequences of wearing face masks we need to be wary of

Dragana Gordic / Shutterstock
When healthcare workers wear surgical masks, there is good evidence that this limits the spread of respiratory viral infections in hospitals. However, there is no clear evidence that surgical masks protect or share the public from such infections - most likely due to improper use. With fabric masks that are worn by the public, the picture is still cloudy.
Surgical masks consist of multiple layers of nonwoven and can effectively filter very small particles such as SARS-CoV-2 droplets (the virus that causes COVID-19). The masks typically contain an outer waterproof layer and an inner absorbent layer.
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Although masks made of scarves, T-shirts or other fabrics do not offer the same protection and durability as surgical masks, they can block some of the large droplets exhaled by the wearer and protect others from viruses. However, their ability to filter droplets depends on their design. Multi-layer cloth masks filter better, but are more difficult to breathe. And they get damp faster than single-layer masks.
The question we have to ask is not so much whether cloth masks offer as good protection as surgical masks (we know that this is not the case, and maybe that's okay), but whether there are serious unintended consequences when members recommend their widespread use to the public.
When deciding whether to implement a large-scale security measure, it is important to weigh the benefits against potential harm. Here are four possible ramifications that, if not mitigated, could make the situation worse. Forewarned is prepared.
The big four
First, the so-called Peltzman effect indicates that the introduction of safety measures such as seat belts in the car can lead to other compensatory risk behaviors such as speeding. (If you find that your car is safer than usual, you may be able to compensate for this by driving faster.) In the context of COVID-19, it has been argued that wearing a mask can make people feel safer, and thus others minimize protective behaviors that we know are effective, such as social distancing and regular hand washing.
While we have no clear evidence that this happens during the pandemic, some pre-outbreak studies have shown that people actually had poor hand hygiene when wearing a mask.
Second, masks in contact with other people must be worn correctly and evenly to provide protection. Most studies to date, none of which have been conducted during the current pandemic, have not explicitly addressed the level of compliance with mask wear. Those who reported variable compliance ranged from "good" to "bad".
It is important to note, however, that the more serious an illness appears and the more vulnerable people feel, the more likely they are to protect themselves during a pandemic. Given the high number of global infections and deaths, people may cling to masks more than usual during the pandemic.
Third, masks can act as an additional route of transmission or other behaviors that transmit the virus, e.g. B. regular facial touches. In order to prevent masks from becoming alternative transmission paths, they must be safely accepted and removed.
People touch their faces 15 to 23 times an hour on average - an itchy or ill-fitting mask can cause people to touch their eyes, nose, and mouth even more often. After touching your mask, there is a risk of your hands becoming contaminated and then spreading the virus to other surfaces such as door handles, railings or tables.
Fourth, British researchers have calculated that the daily use of disposable masks by the entire British population would pose a significant environmental hazard, namely 42,000 tonnes of potentially contaminated and non-recyclable plastic waste per year.
In addition, most people will have noticed the increased waste of masks in common areas, which can be dangerous for the environment and infection. Reusable masks are therefore preferable.
An increasingly common site. Michael D Edwards / Shutterstock
National and international public health authorities are now recommending that members of the public use masks in places where it is difficult to maintain social distance, such as in public transport. We urge readers to continue good hand hygiene and social distance, not to touch their faces, and to use reusable (instead of disposable) face coverings - and to dispose of them safely at the end of their useful life.
This article is republished by The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
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The authors do not work for companies or organizations that would benefit from this article, and do not consult, or receive funding from, stocks. They have not disclosed any relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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