Month: June 2020

Come over to the Mask Side

We have the good people (and also the enlightened self-interested)

UPDATE (Nov 2020): A lot of changes and new knowledge have come to light since this blog was written.  Some of this content is still accurate, but some of it may have become obsolete.  Please read the more recent mask-related blogs for up-to-date information regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and mask-related issues.

You know, Good People with capital letters.  The sort of people who actually care about other humans.  People who do the right thing even if it doesn’t benefit themselves, who give anonymously to orphans and pick up plastic at the beach.

People who wear face masks, even if they’re fit, healthy, and personally unconcerned about catching COVID-19.

Because the word is in, folks.  Up to 45% of us may be asymptomatic coronavirus carriers.  Granted, the science seems to get updated day by day.  But at the time of writing, experts say that some of us can carry and spread the novel coronavirus without showing any symptoms — maybe nearly half of us (though percentages vary quite a bit depending on whom you ask).

That’s enough for me: I’m officially coming down on the Mask Side of the Force.  Join me, and we can rule the universe together.  Or at least Forcefully prod things in the right direction.

Come Over to the Mask Side

Who Do Masks Protect?

Here’s the thing that confuses the issue: non-medical fabric masks don’t necessarily protect you from catching the virus if, say, someone sneezes in your face.  But they are pretty darn effective at protecting other people from you.

To the selfish and short-sighted, this makes mask-wearing pointless.  To the aforementioned Good People, it’s all the reason they need to wear masks every single time they set foot outside.  But what does this mean to everybody in between?

Now, I’m a misanthropic old bag and a terrible, awful human being who likes dogs and Daleks more than other people.  Social distancing is a blessing and self-isolation is just for days ending in “y”.  I am not Good People. 

But I am a reasonable person from a science background.  And as such, enlightened self-interest tells me that I should wear face masks wherever I go, and strongly encourage everyone in the world to do the same, at least until such time as we have a cure or a vaccine in adequate supply.

The Alien Hatchling Analogy

Allow me to explain myself using an absurd, gruesome, and oversimplified analogy.  Let’s say aliens abduct a thousand of us, impregnate a few hundred with their parasitic eggs, and release us into a nature reserve.  None of us know if we’re egged or not until the moment the hatching alien bursts through our nose.  It will then burrow into the nearest uninfected person’s belly, hatch its own eggs through his or her nose, and so forth, until no one’s left alive.

Luckily, we find some helmets lying around.  Wearing the helmets won’t stop the egg from hatching if you’re already infected, and they won’t prevent any roaming hatchlings from burrowing into your abdomen.  BUT (here’s the important bit) when when the hatchling emerges through someone’s nose, they will get trapped in the helmet and die, meaning they won’t be able to attack anyone else.

So, should we all wear the helmets?   Let’s take a vote.

If you’re already infected, the helmet won’t save you.  But what if you’re not infected?   Then if, and ONLY if, everyone wears one, it will absolutely save your life.  Not only that; every single uninfected person will survive.  

However, if someone refuses to wear the helmet, that person becomes an active danger to every other person, because if s/he hatches an alien, it can infect anyone, helmeted or not.  We can only save everyone if everyone wears the helmet.  Remember, the helmet does NOT take away the aliens’ power to infect you — it just imprisons them away from you. 

To my mind, it then makes all kind of sense to vote for helmets for everyone, even if I don’t know whether I’m infected or not.  I’m doing it to create an environment where the infection is contained within the infected, not because it renders me immune to wandering aliens.

Back To the Present Situation

In the real world, if we can create a scenario where everyone keeps their alien hatchlings (aka virus-laden droplets) contained in a helmet (aka face mask), the lives saved could be yours or mine.  Or your child’s, your 93-year-old granny’s, or your immune-compromised cousin’s.

This, friends and others, is why I now wear a mask every time I show my face in public.  Not because it will protect me from catching COVID-19 (statistically, there’s a decent chance that I already have and don’t know it), but because it’s the best I can do to promote a practice that means nobody will infect anybody. 

Next time you’re in line at the grocery store, take a good look around you, and imagine that nearly half of everyone you see might be carrying alien hatchlings just waiting to burst out and start burrowing.  Then imagine that  face masks could stop that happening, if only they’d all wear one.  Kinda puts things in perspective.  I guess we really are all in this together, though maybe not for the usual reasons people say that.

So next time you step outside, put on that mask, set an example, and spread the message far and wide.  Until we have a cure and/or vaccine, and even some time after that, it really is our only hope.

R2 Always Wore a Mask

P.S.: If you want a custom-designed or themed mask, email us and we can discuss it.  I made some of these one-offs because they inject a bit of fun into a grim subject matter, but they’re just too fiddly to mass-produce.  I’m still trying to figure out how to do a Dalek-themed one.

NOTE: As always, please remember that correct use is everything when it comes to face masks; improper care and sanitation practices can actually endanger you or others.  The wrong fit can make masks ineffective, or just too uncomfortable to wear.  Ditto for the wrong style for your facial anatomy.  (Read more about proper fit and mask styles for your face here). 

Care and Feeding of Your Fantastic Beasts…er, Masks

The proper way to put on, wear, remove, and tolerate your face masks

By Kitty

UPDATE (Nov 2020): A lot of changes and new knowledge have come to light since this blog was written.  Some of this content is still accurate, but some of it may have become obsolete.  Please read the more recent mask-related blogs for up-to-date information regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and mask-related issues.

Most of the world now agrees that face masks are a Good Thing, but like many good things, they can do more harm than good if used the wrong way.   

Masks aren’t magic talismans that automatically protect people who wear them; they’re a tool for a particular job.  And like all important life tools (hand sanitizer, hand weights, hand blenders, condoms, etc.), you need to learn to use them properly if you want them to do their job. 

I’ve seen all the mistakes mentioned below more times than I can count, where people end up turning masks into actual health hazards.  So here is a succinct summary of how to safely use face masks to protect yourself and others. 

NOTE: I’ve written a slew of blogs concerning face masks in the last couple of months (covering assorted mask styles, fitting different faces, cultural attitudes toward mask wearing, even Harry Potter-inspired masks), so I won’t repeat huge tracts of the same info here.  If you want more detailed discussion, you can read those, and/or the FAQs on the website.

Pick the right fit for your face shape. 

If your masks doesn’t fit you correctly, you’ll be touching and adjusting it constantly.  That’s the biggest safety no-no!  Also, big gaps severely reduce a mask’s effectiveness.  If you’re not sure what constitutes “right fit,” get details here.  Just know that as with shirts and shoes, one size does NOT fit all. 

For instance, you do NOT want your mask to fit like this:

Bad Mask Fit – Huge Gaps

Some people (like Kitty) love contoured masks and others (like Felix) can’t stand them.  On the other hand, Kitty thinks pleated masks are awful and Felix thinks they’re the bee’s knees, which I’m told is a good thing. 

Pick the right style for you.

It may be down to your breathing, nose shape, or just personal preference, but make sure you get the one that feels comfortable for you, because you should NEVER be touching or pulling down your mask during wear.  If you want to figure out which of the two main mask styles suits you best, you can find out more.

Don’t touch your mask

That’s right, no touchy.  Once you’ve been out in public, you should consider the outside of your mask a contaminated surface like any other.  If you must adjust the mask, try to do it by the straps or elastic, and do NOT touch the face area.  If you absolutely must do it, wash your hands thoroughly before, then again after.

Obviously, this is only doable if your mask is reasonably comfortable and fits well.  So keep trying until you find the one for you, and adjust the fit if necessary.  Any mask you need to touch a lot is a bad mask (for you, at least).  Speaking of which….

Don’t be afraid to alter the fit

Yes, I’m repeating myself, but the biggest problem with face masks is that some people keep touching their faces because the fit is off or uncomfortable in some way.  If you can’t more or less forget about the mask for long period of time, look into altering the fit so it feels better for you. 

You can lengthen the elastics to reduce tightness or digging-in, or tighten them to help with slippage.  Try a different style or fabric if your mask is impeding your breathing, catching on your beard, or clouding up your glasses (some people find that a wire nose-piece like the ones in an accordion mask helps with this).

Put on and take off masks with clean hands only. 

Seriously.  Wash your hands before putting on your mask, before taking it off, and even after taking it off.  Once your mask has been worn, it’s safest to treat it as a contaminated object.  If you keep removing and replacing your mask with dirty hands, you’re potentially introducing pathogens to your face, which rather defeats the purpose.

Launder your mask between each and every wearing.

Technically, you should put your mask in the laundry every single time you take it off your face, even if you go through three or four a day.  If that’s not feasible, at least remember to only handle the mask with clean hands each time, and put it directly into the washer when you’re done for the day. 

It’s perfectly fine to just wash your mask as part of your regular wash and dry cycle.  You don’t need to bleach or boil it; in fact, boiling is possibly less effective than just washing with soap and water.  Unless you do laundry every day, this means you do need more than one mask for each family member.  If you have cold-like symptoms, you may need lots more.

Have a spare mask/s and change it if it gets wet or soiled.

If you do have any cold-like symptoms, or hay fever for that matter, you may be a bit drippy or sneezy.  If your mask becomes damp, you should change it for a clean, dry one immediately.  I sound like a broken record, but do remember to only do this with freshly washed, clean hands!

Remove your mask by the straps or elastics, not by the fabric part.

It might seem like common sense, but don’t touch the part that goes over your nose or mouth.

Wear masks the right way up.

With contoured masks, “up” is side with the sharper peak in the middle (for going over the bridge of your nose).  But honestly, if it feels more comfy upside down, you do you, and no harm done.

Right Side Up – Note the Curvature from Rear Ties up Over the Nose

With pleated Accordion-style masks, there’s definitely a right way and a wrong way up. The fold of the pleats should always point downward, so they do not create a pocket that potentially collects particles. The following show a mask the wrong way up (and a pair of scissors acting as a large “particle”):

Wrong Side Up – Catches Crumbs

Here’s the same mask right side up:

Right Side Up

Consider special masks for special needs.

For example, if you have a largish beard or abrasive stubble, the pleats of an Accordion mask would give you better coverage than a contoured style.

If you wear glasses, a wire nose-piece (which you can form over the bridge of your nose) may create a better seal and prevent your mask from steaming up your lenses.

If you suffer from some kind of breathing disorder, you obviously need to exercise caution with masks, and must keep a close eye on yourself.  Anything with a heavy filter is right out for you.  You could request an extra-breathable fabric and lining material by emailing us directly; more breathable is NOT the same thing as more permeable to particles!  Also, a pleated style that keeps the lining away from your nostrils may work best (you can read more about how this works).

If you have some special need/s that makes it hard to find a masks that works for you, email us, and maybe we can help.

Be extra-careful if you want to put face masks on dependents.

If you want to put a mask on people other than yourself (such as a child or elderly person with advanced dementia), be very sure that they understand how masks work and how to wear them safely.  If they can’t be made to understand all of the above points, mask-wearing might not be for them. 

And of course, you need to be certain that you can trust them to communicate to you if they run into any kind of breathing or other difficulties, and that they’re old enough and competent enough that choking is not a danger.  If you’re in any doubt, always consult a health care professional.

Stay safe and well-informed, and remember that your mask is a service to your community during the apocalypse.