Keep Calm, Mask On

By Nina Galindo-Calvete, Riley Hilbert, and Leilani Quintero
JUN. 3, 2021

Masks emerged as a part of our daily lives when  covid-19 became a global pandemic in 2020. Their necessity in our lives has caused companies to produce a myriad of masks. It is currently recommended by the U.S. CDC , WHO (World Health Organization), and public health officials that those who are not vaccinated wear face masks to control the spread of the virus. It is extremely important to wear them when out in a public setting. The need for them led to the production of many different kinds of masks. 

Store-bought cloth masks can range in effectiveness. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, a cloth mask should have at least two layers of fabric. Steffen Eikenberry says that a typical “high quality mask could be 80-95 percent protective”, while “low-quality masks made of very thin materials could still be 10-20 percent protective.” Disposable surgical masks have been another commonly used type of mask. These flat, thin, paper-like masks are intended to prevent droplets, sprays and splatters. Studies show that wearing these masks have significantly reduced the spread of respiratory infection. “According to a 2013 study published in Aerosol Science and Technology, surgical face masks can filter out about 60% of smaller, inhaled particles.” You must, however, dispose of this type of  mask after wearing it once. The N95 mask has proven to offer the most protection against not only Covid-19, but other respiratory diseases as well. These masks filter out 95% of particles from the air breathed in, making it the most effective mask on the market. However, N95 masks are short on supply due to the fact that they are reserved for healthcare workers. Even the CDC doesn’t recommend the general public to wear N95 masks.

The creation and widespread use of masks has ultimately slowed down the transmission rate, saving many lives. As of June of 2020, research showed that mask mandates may have averted as many as 450,000 cases. The N-95 mask filters out around 95% of aerosols. This gives us a peek into how effective mask-wearing truly is for the health and well-being of the global community.

Mask-wearing is viewed to be mainly helpful and effective when it comes to our health, however, it is easily forgotten that the environment suffers from mankind’s actions and the failure to properly dispose of masks. According to reports from March of last year, the environmental disaster of improper disposal of masks has an impact that could last generations. For example, a Hong Kong beach clean-up found a total of 70 masks along 100 metres of shoreline, with 30 more appearing the following week. What is incredibly destructive to not only the ecosystem but sealife as well is the fact that one mask alone can produce millions of particles which may contain bacteria and chemicals. This also opens the possibility of these impurities being carried up the food chain. The result? A decreased quality of life for several species of animals. It is crucial that mankind take action to not only protect wildlife, but also to spread awareness about the devastating consequences of careless mask disposal.