Always Advocating Alan – The Great Mask-Off

| Opinion | April 16, 2020

Here in the United States, almost everything ends up as a competitive event. It is never enough for anything to simply stay a friendly neighborhood activity. First, we start keeping score to determine who won, then we form leagues and challenge those around us to compete, and finally some promoter establishes professional teams and charges the public to watch. Can you imagine what that would look like if a “Mask-Off” competition takes hold?

OK, I realize a professional Health Care Mask-Off sounds a bit bizarre, but it is no more ridiculous than what has been going on in the news media, fueled in this case by – Medical Professionals? We are living in a time when the personal decisions we make can seriously affect our health, the health of each of our family members, and the health of our neighbors. I don’t know about you, but when I decide how to proceed on anything the least bit important, I typically do enough research as to determine what source gives me sufficient confidence it has the knowledge and experience to steer me in the right direction. Currently, I have absolute trust in my medical doctor, because our prior interactions have shown me he will relay what I need to know, not what I want to hear. Not only that, I also believe he will tell me what needs to be done in an honest and truthful manner.

But I have not been witnessing that same level of honesty and intelligence exhibited by the medical talking heads on television and cable news. The thing which has amazed me is the way they all follow the same nonsensical script. Remember less than two months ago, when we were being told wearing masks will not protect the general public, and to turn them in for the front-line medical professionals to use? Plus, how about this one: “Surgical Masks will not protect you either.” Did they really think that bit of illogical logic was going to fool anyone?

Why couldn’t they simply have told the truth by indicating that the current supply of N95 masks are insufficient to protect medical staff members who are currently treating patients already infected? We are asking you to do your part, and if you have an excess supply of masks in your possession, please turn then in, so they may be used where they will do the most good.

Then today, those same television medical talking heads did an about face, and are now telling us you need to protect yourself, don’t go out of your house without a mask, and any kind of a mask. Even a bandana is better than nothing. Because, it is all a matter of numbers. Even if the healthcare-rated mask manufacturers ramp up production and produce 100 million masks per month, with the United States having a population of 330 million, it would take over 3 months to have enough for the entire country’s population, and that is if the health care workers were not in need of any additional supply. Using the Wikipedia number of 18 million health care workers in the country, if each worker used one new mask per day, the industry would consume 396 million masks per month alone, far outstripping the amount produced. The health care industry needs to rethink how to handle the problem other than by using single use face masks.


So today, with all the normal outlets out of masks, we are on our own. Have you been wondering what makes a N95 mask safe? What does N95 mean? Well, per Wikipedia, “An N95 mask is a particulate-filtering facepiece respirator that meets the N95 standard of the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) meaning that it filters at least 95% of airborne particles, while not resistant to oil”. “N95 respirators were originally designed for industrial use in sectors such as mining, construction, and painting”. N95 Masks filter out airborne particulate matter greater than .3 micron in size.

Looking in the 3M Disposable Respirator Catalog, it shows for industrial use they produce 13 different N95 Masks, with all but two of the types, Mmde in the USA. There is also a 3M Medical catalog which indicates medical masks are also cleared for use by the Federal Drug administration (FDA), as well as NIOSH and OSHA certified, but the basic premise of an N95 Mask remains the same.

Surgical masks have a slightly different purpose. Per CCOHS, “Surgical masks, are designed to help prevent contamination of … large particles generated by the wearer … (and) may also be used to help reduce the risk of splashes or sprays of blood, body fluids, secretions, and excretions from reaching the wearer’s mouth and nose. Surgical masks may also be worn by patients to help limit the spread of infections.”

Plus, there are also “Clean Room Masks,” and I mention them because they look very much like the pleated cloth masks many individuals are making at home today. Per ULINE, “A “Class 100” Clean Room Mask is used in biotech and medical device manufacturing. It is a 3-layer, polypropylene and rayon mask with Tyvek ties, and a metal nosepiece. Good for ISO Class 5 or higher cleanrooms.

Now, I bet you are thinking, great. I have become educated in all the mask types I can no longer buy. What do I do now? Well, you are going to have to improvise. The first thing to recognize is, none of what has been mentioned is 100 percent effective. Next, do not despair and give up. Start planning to do the best you can with what is available. For example, you could make a mask out of multiple layers of the tightest nit cloth you have and insert one or two coffee filters between them. Why? Because Wikipedia also shows coffee filters as effective filtering out particulates greater than 10 to 15 microns. While that is not as good as an N95 Mask at .3 microns, it is a lot more protective than a single bandana. Then, if you can, add a clear plastic face shield made out of whatever you can find, and you will have gone a long way toward protecting yourself. Just make sure the shield does not impair your vision.

Then relax and consider the lesson which has been put before you. The next time those expert talking heads on television give you illogical advice, recognize it for what it is and plan ahead. It is sad; here in California over the last year our population has come to understand, we need to be prepared to defend our families, deal with power outages, water shortages, and now pandemics. So, when this new COVID-19 virus problem is over and just a memory, do not forget to add masks to your family’s emergency supplies.

In addition, by now you must realize, you are in a Mask-Off competitive event. This time the stakes are very high, as you are facing off against the “Real World” and in order to preserve our way of life, we must all end up as winners. What we must do, is be resourceful and patient. Do the best we can and “hope for the best today, but later be sure to prepare for the worst,” no matter what those talking heads on television and cable news try and sell us.

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