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Should I Keep Social Distance Even If I Am Wearing an N95 Mask

The novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, has spread rapidly across the world since its emergence in China at the end of 2019. The lives of billions of people have been greatly affected since, with medical systems, livelihoods, and economies all experiencing a downturn. 

At first, very little was known of the disease as countries tried to mitigate the spread of the virus. Curfews, travel restrictions, and lockdowns were some of the measures introduced by governments as they awaited word from the U.S Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO). 

It didn’t take long for those health governing entities to recommend several measures to counter the spread of COVID-19. Those measures included maintaining proper hand hygiene, wearing face coverings in public, and more relevantly, social distancing. 

Naturally, there has been a lot of blowback in regard to how people approached these measures especially in the Western hemisphere of the globe. Here in Canada, thousands of people protested in Montreal against wearing face masks.

To demystify the stigma surrounding the use of face masks and social distancing, we’ve broken down how wearing a N95 mask is important in curbing the spread of COVID-19, what social distancing entails, and how the two measures can help flatten the curve. But to get a clear picture of how these measures can best protect us against the disease, we first have to understand how the Coronavirus spreads from person to person.

How COVID-19 Spreads Across People

The virus mainly spreads through physical contact and respiratory droplets expelled from a carrier of the virus. When a sick person talks, coughs, or sneezes, they release tiny droplets known as aerosols into the air from their mouths and noses. 

These aerosols carry the bacteria responsible for causing the coronavirus and can linger on breathable air for up to 3 hours. If the particles exhaled are large, they will fall onto a surface where they can live for up to 3 days. 

If a healthy person touches a contaminated surface, they might get infected by the virus especially if they proceed to touch their face without having cleaned or disinfected their hands before. 

Wearing of Face Masks in Public

If you’re wondering if it matters what type of mask you wear when out in public then the answer is, yes. Different types of masks provide varying levels of protection.

N95 masks have been touted as the best type of face mask to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. N95 masks filter out at least 95% of particles that range between 0.1 to 0.3 microns in diameter hence the name ‘N95’.  

However, N95 masks are in short supply in Canada as health authorities insist that they be reserved for use by those in the direst need such as first responders and healthcare workers who are in the frontline fighting the spread of the disease.  

What is Social Distancing

Human beings have a rather ancient, yet highly effective way of handling outbreaks of infectious diseases; isolation. Social scientists have argued that it’s a primal response by humans to disassociate themselves from trouble. If an infected person cannot directly or indirectly transmit a disease, then the disease will disappear.  

There are three factors that characterize the infectious nature of certain diseases such as the coronavirus. They include the pathogen, method of transmission, and a vulnerable population. 

In China where the virus originated from, the government took certain measures to implement isolation for patients and people who were in close contact with patients such as canceling public activities, blocking traffic, restricted travel, and mandated quarantine. 

Chinese provinces that implemented such measures recorded great efforts in controlling the spread of the virus. Cue social distancing. 

Social distancing is a public health practice aiming to prevent infected people from coming into contact with non-infected people so as to reduce the possibilities of transmission and consequently, the overall spread of the disease. 

Scientific research has shown that anyone within 6 feet or less of someone who’s sick, is highly likely to inhale the aerosols released by the carrier into their system which will infect them with the virus. 

Social distancing can include large-scale measures such as banning group meetings and public events or shutting down public spaces. On an individual level, it can mean avoiding spaces with large crowds or with high human traffic. 

So Should I Maintain Social Distancing Even if I Have an N95 Mask?

In truth, having a mask on, be it the N95 mask as effective as it is, or a fabric mask is not a full-proof method of keeping yourself safe from the coronavirus. You need to combine all safety measures for maximum efficiency.

Some N95 masks have respiratory valves much to the criticisms of several health experts. The reason behind this is because while the valves aid the wearer in breathability, some of the unfiltered air they exhale escapes through the valve. This means if the wearer is a carrier of the virus, they could pose a health risk to healthy people around them. This makes social distancing a very important measure in flattening the curve. 

Another reason why you should maintain social distance even if you have an N95 mask on is because you could be carrying the virus without knowing you’re infected. Studies have shown that some people are asymptomatic to the virus. This means they are infected but show no symptoms. 

If you’re infected by COVID-19, are feeling well, but you are asymptomatic, it’s likely that at some point during the day you’re going to take off your mask. If you do so in close proximity to other people, you run the risk of infecting them without them or you even knowing it.    

Wrapping It Up

With the emergence and spread of the novel coronavirus across Canada and other countries, phrases such as ‘social distancing’ and self-quarantine’ which were previously unheard of, are now almost everywhere we look.   

The methods by which the coronavirus spreads means that combining both social distancing and the wearing of N95 masks when possible is the most effective method of controlling the further spread of the disease. If we’re going to resume our normal lives and do away with the ‘new normal’, we’re going to have to take the fight to a global front.   

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