Palm Beach County entered Phase 2 of reopening from COVID-19 on Sept. 8, a move that initiated the school district’s to schedule its re-opening for Monday, Sept. 21. Those students who choose to return to their campuses for in-person instruction will be required to wear a mask the entire school day, as will faculty, administrators, and staff. Most Palm Beach County residents have been wearing masks when in public since March, so they have grown accustomed to the practice.
However, many of the “masks” people have been wearing even through the summer do not meet the safety standards established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Some examples of these face coverings are bandanas, neck gaiters, and t-shirts. These masks are not nearly as effective as other medical grade masks or homemade masks. Their fabrics are too thin, and they need to be at least doubled over in order to provide decent protection. The thing to remember is the more layers the better. These “masks” should really only be used as a last resort, though they will offer you a smaller percentage of protection.
Infectious disease experts and the CDC state that the top two medical grade masks are the N99 and the N95. They allow the fewest contaminated air particles through. A group of researchers from a June study published in the Journal of Hospital Infection found that the N99 masks reduced a person’s risk of infection by 94% to 99%, even after 20 minutes of exposure in a highly contaminated environment. N95 masks offer almost as much protection. They are about 95% effective. These are the highest recommended masks, especially for healthcare professionals.
A problem is that there is a growing shortage of the N99 and N55 masks, so it is important that those not in the healthcare fields not hoard these masks. There is no need for concern though, as there are other quality options available to the public.
An extremely popular option is disposable surgical masks. These come in a close second to the N95 and the N99 masks. These are the masks that are often seen in shows such as Grey’s Anatomy and The Good Doctor. They filter out large particles in the air. They also protect others from your saliva and respiratory secretions. They are about three times as effective as a typical homemade mask. This is a major difference, and this is why if one chooses to use a homemade mask it is imperative to ensure that it is made well enough to protect properly.
When opting to make one’s own reusable masks, there are rules to consider. A homemade mask should have at least two layers, but preferably more. Many homemade masks have an opening between layers to insert a filter. These mask filters can be easily obtained online on websites such as Amazon.
It is also important to use the right materials; this is why hybrid masks are a great option. Researchers have found that the combination of cotton and chiffon fabric offers the most protection in a homemade mask. Other fabrics that can be used are flannel, silk, and four layers of natural silk. Reusable masks have many advantages, but the main one is that they can be washed and reused. These are a good option, as long as the homemade mask makers take the guidelines to heart.
Whatever mask options those returning to school on Sept. 21 choose to wear, it also important that they be worn properly. The mask should cover the nose and the mouth. The mask is rendered useless when it is lowered in order to talk to someone.
Students returning to the Olympic Heights campus should be aware that their failure to wear a mask properly and follow the other safety guidelines will result in their being sent home and a possible return to distance learning mode.