1) Why are masks sold out or very expensive?

Simply put, the supply of masks cannot meet demand. With a global pandemic and the supply already curtailed due to the outbreak in China (and their large population’s needs), mask producers in China are not allowed to export their own national supply.

Fear and panic is causing many to purchase in bulk, leading to shortages. Shortages lead those who do have a small supply to try to extract the greatest possible profit, leading to extreme price hikes and gauging. This cannot come at a worse time for the medical professionals who may come into direct contact with the disease and need masks the most. 

2) Who should wear masks?

There are limits to how a mask can protect you from being infected and they should not be used to lull the wearer into a false sense of security and lax hygiene practices. Therefore, many experts warn that masks should be used primarily to stop the spread of the virus from sick people to others. Surgical masks are in fact, designed to keep the infected droplets from spreading out, not from entering in. Therefore, masks are most effective for those who are already sick to stop the disease from spreading. 

With the novel coronavirus, scientists have suggested that infected people may be spreading the disease without knowing it, before they realize they have symptoms. Therefore, those around you may be spreading the disease by not wearing masks, and not even realizing it. Wearing a mask can help reduce but not eliminate the risk of being infected by those who you may come into contact with. 

Masks are the most effective at stopping the spread of the disease if the infected person is wearing it, which is one reason why medical professionals want there to be a healthy supply of masks available on the market. If healthy people stockpile masks and don’t use them, making them unavailable for sick people, this is the worst case scenario for stopping the spread of the disease. 

3) Why make your own mask instead of purchasing them?

The surgeon general recently advised the general to stop buying masks, warning that it will take away important resources from health care professionals. Medical professionals need a large supply of the masks because they are in direct contact with infected patients and must change their masks repeatedly.

The overall chance that the average citizen will come into direct contact with the disease is much lower than the medical professionals on the frontline, therefore to help stop the spread of the disease and treat those who are affected, they must have access to a large supply of masks. There simply isn’t enough supply for every citizen to stockpile their own personal stash, and also expect the medical community to have what they need.

4) Why do people say I don’t need to wear a mask?

In most Asian countries the standard advice is that everyone should wear a mask – in China, during this coronavirus outbreak, it has in fact been mandated that everyone must wear masks in public places, no matter if you are healthy or sick.

In western countries with populations that may not be accustomed to people wearing masks in public, seeing them in use it may trigger alarm and panic that governments would like to avoid. Perhaps most importantly, the supply simply isn’t available to have everyone wearing masks, and therefore for the greater public good, the guideline in the US and other western countries is that only the sick should wear, and therefore buy commercially available masks.

Wearing any type of face mask correctly coupled with consistent and precise hygiene practices can help improve your family’s safety and decrease your chances of spreading COVID-19 and other coronaviruses.  

5) Why aren’t face masks as common in the US as they are in Asia?

According to the New York Times, “in the West, the image of Asian people with masks is sometimes wielded, deliberately or not, as a signifier of otherness. But in East Asia, the act of wearing a mask is a gesture that communicates solidarity during an epidemic — a time when a community is vulnerable to being divided by fear, between the healthy and the sick.

Various studies of the SARS epidemic showed that mask-wearing created intimacy and trust in the face of danger. What the sociologist Peter Baehr noted for SARS goes, too, for today: ‘Mask culture’ fosters a sense of a fate shared, mutual obligation and civic duty. It brings together people faced with a common threat and helps mitigate one of the secondary dangers posed by an epidemic: anomie, or the breakdown of social norms. Face-mask-related humor, a fixture of SARS, is back on social media in China today. Mask-wearing is a social ritual.”

6) Is a DIY face mask the same as wearing a surgical mask?

This DIY face mask kit is not meant to replace surgical face masks or respirators used in medical and emergency settings. It is a contingency plan for those who have no access to surgical masks or for those who recognize the need to keep surgical masks and respirators available for the medical community and vulnerable populations.

Using a surgical mask properly is still the best way to prevent a viral infection. A DIY face mask is not medical rated but can help filter out large particles and create a barrier for droplets in the area.

7) What are the differences between different types of masks? 

As the route of transmission for the current COVID-19 coronavirus is still not settled by scientists, the best type of mask to use is being hotly debated.

In its newly published infection prevention and control recommendations for COVID-19, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the use of N95 respirators in a healthcare setting with the suspected novel coronavirus, The World Health Organization (WHO) however, has recommended surgical masks for general patient care and respirators for aerosol-generating procedures only. This lower standard, could be due to the fact that the WHO is more cognizant of non-western countries’ standards of care that may not have access to respirators.

Generally, N95 respirators provide the most protection from infectious droplets in the air, as they are designed to maintain a tight fit around the moth and nose, and filter a high percentage of substances. Surgical masks are generally looser, and therefore do not provide full protection from infectious droplets, and are generally recommended for those who are sick to not spread the disease to others.

8) Can the coronavirus live on fabric, carpet, and other soft surfaces? What about hard surfaces?

“Currently, there’s no evidence that COVID-19, the new coronavirus, can be transmitted from soft surfaces like fabric or carpet to humans.”

9) What are the other reasons people wear masks for?

  • To protect against germs (dense urban areas coming into contact with large numbers of people)
  • To disguise your identity (HK protests, Halloween, etc.)
  • Pollution (dust, hayfever, allergies, etc.)
  • Fashion
  • Protection against the weather (sun/wind protection, etc.) – via BBC

10) Have there been any studies on the use of fabric masks?

There are no set standards for anything being sold as a fabric or even surgical masks. In one test, fabric masks were found to have provided “something like a six-fold decrease in the amount of virus exposure.”

Wearing a fabric or loose-fitting surgical mask may also help to deter wearers from self-contaminating – you are less likely to be putting your hands to your noses or mouths. However, we should still be wary about our exposed eyes.