“You can achieve really high levels of reduction and exposure if everyone’s wearing a mask.” Dr. Linsey Marr.
Masks. Over the past year, they’ve become a fashion statement for some, a nuisance for others, and most importantly, a public health necessity for all.
In the latest episode of EPIDEMIC, Mask Up, the last one for 2020, Dr. Kim Prather and Dr. Linsey Marr, two authors of a recent article in Science about airborne transmission of the coronavirus, discuss the importance and efficacy of masks. But first, we hear from another guest, who may not be an expert on the science of masks yet, but is certainly an expert on mask fashion: Dr. Gounder’s five-year-old niece, Delphine Wallis.
Delphine’s mask collection is impressive: she has masks patterned with flamingos, glitter, cupcakes, emojis, hearts, flowers, and more. She knows that she wears masks outside to protect everyone—herself and others—from disease, but Dr. Prather and Dr. Marr fill in the scientific gaps.
Coronavirus particles travel through the air in droplets and aerosols—“tiny bits of solids and liquids that get released into the air when you sneeze, sing, or even just talk normally,” as Dr. Gounder explains––and can then be inhaled by others. Though public health recommendations were originally based upon the assumption that heavy droplets—“mini cannonballs,” as Dr. Prather describes—account for most of the spread, research now shows that lighter aerosols are likely more important to transmission. This new research calls for some long-term changes in infrastructure and behavior, but in the meantime, it strengthens the case for masks.
Dr. Marr explains how masks protect both the public and the wearer by filtering out particles. Though masks are not as effective in protecting the wearer as they are in protecting those around the wearer, Dr. Marr says that if everyone wears masks, “there’s a multiplier effect.”
Masks aren’t flawless though, and not all masks are made equally. Even N95 masks—named for their 95% efficacy rates––can become only 30% effective when worn improperly. For maximum protection, Dr. Marr recommends creating a “three layer mask… sandwich” with a filter material as the middle layer.
With the holiday season beginning and coronavirus cases and deaths rising at an all time high, wearing a mask and following public health recommendations is crucial. For more on masks and the airborne nature of COVID-19, listen to Episode 55 of EPIDEMIC now: Mask Up.
Happy holidays, and stay safe and healthy. We’ll see you next year.