Mask expert warns Dr. Deena Hinshaw mask use will not protect against COVID-19
I support the Alberta Health recommendation that Albertans wear N95, surgical or non-medical masks in public to reduce the likelihood of transmitting or developing a condition from the coronavirus known as COVID-19. Wearing a mask is an important part of reducing the spread of this virus and protecting ourselves and others. It is also important to practice social distancing, wash our hands often, and stay home if we are feeling unwell. By following these guidelines, we can help protect ourselves and our communities from the spread of COVID-19.
I have been a member of the Canadian Society of Respiratory Therapists since 1997 and am currently a member of the American Association for Respiratory Care. I have also been an active member of the International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA) since 2000. I have presented at numerous conferences and seminars on respiratory protection, fit testing, and other related topics. I am also a certified instructor in both the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) Z94.4-11 Standard for Respiratory Protection and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1981 Standard on Open-Circuit Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA).
1. Respirator masks, including N95, surgical and non-medical masks, are designed to filter out particles larger than 0.3 microns in size. However, the novel coronavirus is much smaller than this (0.125 microns), meaning that these masks are not effective at filtering out the virus.
2. Even if a respirator mask does filter out the virus, it may not provide complete protection as it only covers the nose and mouth and does not form a seal around the face. This means that air can still enter through gaps around the edges of the mask, potentially carrying infectious particles with it.
3. Respirator masks also need to be fitted correctly in order to be effective, which can be difficult for some people to do correctly on their own. If they are not fitted properly then they will not provide adequate protection against COVID-19.
4. Finally, respirator masks must be changed regularly in order to remain effective; otherwise they become clogged with moisture and other particles which can reduce their effectiveness at filtering out viruses such as COVID-19.
- Viruses in the fluid envelopes that surround them can be very small, so small in fact that you would need an electron microscope to see them. N95 masks filter 95% of particles with a diameter of 0.3 microns or larger. COVID-19 particles are .08 â€“ .12 microns.
- Viruses donâ€™t just enter us through our mouth and nose, but can also enter through our eyes and even the pores of our skin. The only effective barrier one can wear to protect against virus exposure would be a fully encapsulated hazmat suit with cuffs by ankles taped to boots and cuffs by wrists taped to gloves, while receiving breathing air from a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) Â This barrier is standard gear to protect against a biohazard (viruses) and would have to be worn in a possible virus hazard environment 24/7 and you wouldnâ€™t be able to remove any part of it even to have a sip of water, eat or use the washroom while in the virus environment. If you did, you would become exposed and would negate all the prior precautions you had taken.
- Not only are N95, surgical and non-medical masks useless as protection from COVID-19, but in addition, they also create very real risks and possible serious threats to a wearerâ€™s health for the following reasons
- Wearing these masks increases breathing resistance, making it more difficult to both inhale and exhale. According to our Alberta government regulations on respirator (mask) use, anyone that is required to wear a respirator mask shouldÂ be screened to determine their ability to safely wear one.
Any covering of the mouth and nose increases breathing resistance, whether the mask is certified or not. Those individuals with pre-existing medical conditions of shortness of breath, lung disease, panic attacks, breathing difficulties, chest pain in exertion, cardiovascular disease, fainting spells, claustrophobia, chronic bronchitis, heart problems, asthma, allergies, diabetes, seizures, high blood pressure and pacemakers need to be pre-screened by a medical professional to be approved to be able to safely wear one. Wearing these masks could cause a medical emergency for anyone with any of these conditions.
Pregnancy-related high blood pressure is possible. More research is necessary to determine the impact of wearing a mask for extended periods of time on pregnancy.
It is dangerous to recommend, much less mandate anyone with medical conditions to wear a mask without educating them about the risks involved in wearing them without having been pre-screened and approved by a medical professional first.
- In order for any respirator mask to offer protection to a specific user, that user must be individually fitted with the right type, right size, if male â€“ face must be clean shaven (only short moustache allowed). Next, the user must be fit tested with that respirator by a trained professional to determine whether or not the respirator is providing the user with an air- tight seal â€“ a requirement for any respirator mask.
- N95 masks â€“ N for not resistant to oil particles, 95 for the percentage of protection â€“ the lowest level of all respirator masks.
These masks even when properly sized and fitted will not protect against virus exposure, however they are capable of adequate protection from larger particles such as pet dander, pollen and sawdust.
Surgical masks (the paper ones that loop around the ears) â€“ do not seal to the face and do not filter anything.
Nonmedical and/or homemade masks are dangerous because:
- Not engineered for the efficient yet protective requirements of easy inhalation and effective purging of exhaled carbon dioxide
- Could cause an oxygen deficiency for the user
- Could cause an accumulation of carbon dioxide for the user
- Shouldnâ€™t be recommended under any circumstance
- They increase body temperature and physical stress â€“ could cause a high temperature alert on a thermometer gun
- They impede verbal communication
- N95, surgical and nonmedical masks can create infections and possible disease all by themselves by causing exhaled warm, moist air to accumulate on the inside material of the mask, right in front of the userâ€™s mouth and nose, which is the perfect environment for bacteria to form, grow and multiply. That is why N95 and other disposable masks were only designed to be short duration, specific task use and then immediately discarded.
Yes, masks may be effective in preventing the spread of certain illnesses, but they are not the only way to protect our health. A healthy lifestyle is still the best way to stay healthy and prevent illness.
Eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, and managing stress can all help to boost our immune system. Additionally, taking supplements such as Vitamin C and Zinc can also help to strengthen the immune system. It is important to remember that no single supplement or lifestyle change will completely protect us from COVID-19; however, these measures can help to reduce our risk of infection and improve our overall health.
Chris Schaefer is the Director of SafeCom Training Services Inc., a company that provides safety and compliance training for businesses. He has over 20 years of experience in the safety and compliance industry, and he is passionate about helping companies create safe working environments for their employees. Chris has a Bachelor’s degree in Occupational Safety and Health from the University of Central Florida, and he is a Certified Safety Professional (CSP). He also holds certifications in OSHA 10-Hour Construction, OSHA 30-Hour Construction, HAZWOPER 40-Hour, HAZWOPER 24-Hour Refresher, Confined Space Entry Supervisor, Fall Protection Competent Person, First Aid/CPR/AED Instructor, and many more. Chris is dedicated to providing quality safety training services to help businesses stay compliant with regulations while keeping their employees safe.
The best way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is to practice social distancing, wear a face mask when in public, wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, avoid touching your face, cover coughs and sneezes, clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces, and stay home if you are feeling sick.