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Face Masks: Considerations, Science and Safety

Monday, September 14th, 2020 | Blog

This time last year, the concept of having to wear a mask whenever you’re shopping or within proximity of others would have sounded particularly strange and somewhat frightening. Unfortunately, because of COVID-19 it is a reality that we face each day. It hasn’t been a simple transition for any of us, but it’s a necessary one that not only protects your health but also protects the lives of those around you.

A quick disclaimer, there are certain circumstances in which people are not expected to wear masks such as a certain illness, condition or because of age. For a full breakdown of the exemptions, visit the Gov.uk website by clicking the following link.

Gov.uk Face Covering Guidelines

Firstly, what is the purpose of wearing a mask?

COVID-19 spreads through close contact and respiratory droplets in the air. This means the virus is especially efficient at moving between people in large, built up and heavily populated areas, which is why there have been significantly more cases in cities than there have been in towns. For example, throughout the pandemic there have been 279,000 recorded cases of COVID in London, while the entire country of Wales has recorded 18,000 cases as of writing.

Even though we don’t fully understand the virus, we know that masks drastically limit the spread. If for example you look at many countries in Southeast Asia where it is customary to wear a mask when ill, you can see that the number of cases are significantly lower. South Korea had an estimated 21,588 cases, and a peak of 1,062 cases in one day. Hong Kong to date has reported 4,896 total cases with a peak of 149 in one day. The socially ingrained commitment to wearing masks in Southeast Asia is largely a result of the SARS outbreak in 2002, which was another respiratory coronavirus that spread throughout Asia. 

In the UK, the current legal ruling is that people must wear a face covering in some of the following places (we’ll link the full list at the bottom of the page):

  • public transport (aeroplanes, trains, trams and buses)
  • transport hubs (airports, rail and tram stations and terminals, maritime ports and terminals, bus and coach stations and terminals)
  • shops and supermarkets (places which offer goods or services for retail sale or hire)
  • shopping centres & indoor markets
  • auction houses
  • premises providing professional, legal or financial services (post offices, banks, building societies, high-street solicitors and accountants, credit unions, short-term loan providers, savings clubs and money service businesses)
  • premises providing personal care and beauty treatments (hair salons, barbers, nail salons, massage centres, tattoo and piercing parlours)

So, how do masks work?

To understand how masks work, you first need to look at how humans spread germs through their mouths. The experiment “Visualizing Speech-Generated Oral Fluid Droplets with Laser Light Scattering” in April this year found that even speaking a simple term can generate 20 to 500 micrometers of droplets. The same study found that when covered by a damp washcloth, there was almost a complete reduction in the number of droplets. Now imagine the number of droplets left in the air by groups of people talking, laughing and sneezing, and suddenly it’s easy to see why viruses spread in the way they do.

So now imagine if all of those people now had a piece of material covering their mouth which prevents potentially infected air droplets from reaching other people. By wearing a mask you are not only limiting the spread of it, but you are also protecting yourself from catching it. Take a look at this infographic below for a great visual:

Importance of wearing a mask
Face mask covering chart


There’s also demonstrable evidence that wearing a mask limits the spread of the virus, with a study published by Health Affairs showing that mandated mask wearing resulted in a slowdown of the COVID growth rate. Slowing the daily growth rate by 0.9% compared to five days prior and within three weeks the rate had slowed by 2%.

If you would like to find out more about the areas where mask wearing as a legal expectation, please click the following link.

Gov.uk Face Mask Guidance

Are you struggling to maintain positive mental health in the current pandemic? Read our previous blog about maintaining positive mental health by clicking the link below.

The importance of maintaining your mental health during a pandemic

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