07 April 2020

So, masks. I've been reading and listening. This is what I learned:
All previous evidence about virus load and mask protection has been based on other viruses, not this Covid-19 virus. What we could read until very recently about virus transmission and protection via masks was based on the influenza virus and a variety of respiratory common-and-garden-cold viruses.

But in the last week, two studies have been published that looked specifically at the corona virus and mask wearing. Hurray for science, yes!

I've muddled my way through the two publications (one from a team in Hong Kong, one from a team in Singapore) and in short, they both conclude as far as I get it:

  • Wearing a mask in a possible early stage of the infection could well protect the virus from being released and passed on. However, a simple mask does not protect the wearer from airborne infection.
  • Only highly technical masks that can filter a pore size of up to 500 nanometers would also filter virus aerosols in the room. 
There was another result from the research team in Singapore, which I found reassuring:

The Singapore team also took samples from wiping surfaces in the hospital room where 30 of the infected patient were treated (one patient per single hospital room).

  • In these 30 patients, the virus swab samples were only positive in the first week of symptoms. In the second week, when the patients were still sick, the wipe samples were no longer positive. So there was no virus left on the surfaces.
  • This is due to the fact that patients gives off less virus in the later course of the disease. This gives us important information as to how long a patient is actually infectious. But it also means that at home where we live in our bubble, we don't have to clean all possible surfaces with disinfectants.
As usual, and I say this after 20+ years working as a language editor in medical science, I am baffled by my limited understanding but if I have learnt one thing, it is that there will be an avalanche of further studies testing and retesting these results in different settings.

Anyway, masks, my take on it is, if you are living, working, shopping in a place with widespread community transmission of Covid-19, do wear a mask when not at home.

But remember to wash your hands before you put your mask on, and then again once you’ve got it on. Don’t touch it while you are wearing it. And, if you do, immediately wash your hands. Wash the mask after every use (hot ironing works just as well) and allow it to dry properly before using it again. 

And keep up with regular hand-washing and physical distancing.

Click on sources: Hong Kong study  and Singapore study


My life so far said...

I made a mask for my husband on the weekend and promptly burst into tears when I finished it. It made it too real I think. I worry about him. After years of smoking his lungs are shot and I don't know if he would survive pneumonia. It wears on me. Thanks for the info and stay safe my friend.

Ms. Moon said...

Thank you, Sabine.

ellen abbott said...

same with my husband. fortunately we live in a rural county with lots of space around us and so far only 16 cases countrywide. so far. I make him wear a dust mask when he goes out.

ellen abbott said...

yes, thank you Sabine. every little bit of added info helps.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this, Sabine. We are learning the ways of the new world. One day at a time for as long as this crisis persists, Stay safe and healthy there.

Steve Reed said...

Bravo for delving into the source material. I'm sure wearing a mask (properly) doesn't hurt, at the very least. I personally haven't worn one yet, but I toy with the idea. The only place I really feel I might need one is the grocery store.

Joared said...

Absolutely! Excellent video and recap. We were instructed how to properly remove the masks so as to not touch the mask itself. Of course then, we disposed of them after one use, had a new one for each patient, similarly with gloves and gowns too for those contagions requiring them. Never had to get into reuse as now.

We’re told in the U.S. to not purchase or wear either of the commercially mfg masks above and instead to donate them to hospital/medical personnel since such a shortage. We’re supposed to make our own so there are a multitude of patterns for both sown variety and non-stitch, some designed to accommodate a replaceable filter, others just simple. I think individuals at very high risk should definitely use either of the two in your post and hope you have one or access to some. Do take care and be safe.

am said...

Thank you, Sabine. All you information today is helpful. Yesterday, for the first time, I wore a scarf wrapped tightly around my head, covering my nose and mouth when I went on my weekly Community Food Co-op trip for groceries during the early morning hours set aside for high-risk shoppers. Most of the other shoppers had their noses and mouths covered with bandanas and scarves and others had commercial masks. A few people weren't wearing any face covering. This is a major change from last week when only a few people were wearing any kind of face covering.


After all this time, I may have just learned to pronounce your name correctly. Does the YouTube clip show how you pronounce your name? Until now, I would have said, "Say-Bean" with the accent on "Say," long A, long E.


Linda said...

Knowledge is power. Thanks Sabine.

Sabine said...

My name has been pronounced so many different ways, I have lost track. The one you found there is the way we say it in Germany. My German family shortens this to Bine by leaving off the Sa.
My Irish family for reasons I never understood, pronounces it in the French way, leaving off the e at the end. Some of the elderly Irish family gave me an Irish version, to them I am Sheebeen. And there is one Irish auntie who refers to me as Phyllis.

The story goes that my parents had no name for me as they were convinced I was going to be a boy. By the time my father had to register the birth they decided to name me after my two grandmothers but the civil servant at the registry office was shocked when he heard these old ladies' names and suggested Sabine - a more "modern" name. So I have three names and the two old ladies' ones are very popular now.

am said...

Thank you, Sheebeen (-: