Now that lockdown restrictions have eased somewhat, it’s tempting to revert back to semi-normality. Many of us feel less at risk than we did a month ago, and we’re not taking the precautions to the same measure that we originally did.
One of the biggest hassles of the new way of living is wearing a face mask. Masks are stiflingly hot, uncomfortable, and overwhelming. For those of us who wear glasses, they make it near-impossible to see, and they start to feel suffocating after so many minutes of use.
Unsurprisingly, wearing a mask is one of the behaviors that some of us have been quick to abandon as the rate of COVID-19 infection has fallen. But is it wise to do this? Countries around the world are relaxing their rules on social distancing and quarantine, but does that really mean that normality can resume?
Masks are not compulsory wear in public. The CDC recommends wearing a masks or a cloth covering to help stop the spread of the virus, but there’s no legislation that says it’s illegal to not wear a mask.
While a lack of stricter rules might be deterring some of us from wearing a mask, there’s no questioning the importance of doing so. One researcher, Rich Davis, made it his mission to show exactly why this is with the data he shared to his Twitter account.
In his post, which showed two images of Davis’ bacteria levels after a cough and a sneeze, the scientist wrote:
“What does a mask do? Blocks respiratory droplets coming from your mouth and throat.”
He then followed up with two “simple demos”, writing:
“First, I sneezed, sang, talked & coughed toward an agar culture plate with or without a mask. Bacteria colonies show where droplets landed. A mask blocks virtually all of them.”
What does a mask do? Blocks respiratory droplets coming from your mouth and throat.
Two simple demos:
First, I sneezed, sang, talked & coughed toward an agar culture plate with or without a mask. Bacteria colonies show where droplets landed. A mask blocks virtually all of them. pic.twitter.com/ETUD9DFmgU
— Rich Davis, PhD, D(ABMM), MLS 🦠🔬🧫 (@richdavisphd) June 26, 2020
The images that Davis shared demonstrate quite clearly the importance of wearing a mask. In the left column, when Davis sneezed and coughed twice without wearing a mask, the agar culture plates picked up so much bacteria that they turned from red to mostly gray. Even when Davis sang or talked, the plates became splattered with the gray evidence of his bacteria.
In comparison, when Davis coughed and sneezed towards the agar culture plates while wearing a mask, virtually none of his bacteria made it onto the plates. In fact, more bacteria made it onto the plates when he sang or talked than when he sneezed.
In a later experiment about keeping distance, Davies set up open culture plates at 2, 4, and 6-feet distances away from him. He then coughed hard for 15 seconds while wearing a mask. The mask blocked nearly all droplets from reaching the plates. When he took his mask off and coughed again for 15 seconds, his droplets landed on all of the plates, with the most droplets landing on the plate at a 2-feet distance away.
Davis noted that in his experiments, the bacteria present on the plates represented the “microbes present in respiratory droplets”. He added that smaller droplets – i.e. those that can carry viruses like SARS-CoV-2 – had the ability to travel further distances and linger in the air for longer periods than his example bacteria droplets.
There’s no arguing with Davis’ experiments; wearing a mask is essential. Many of us have been wearing a mask to protect ourselves, but as Davis’ experiments prove, it’s more important for protecting those around us.
By wearing a mask, you are letting your neighbors know that you’re doing your bit to prevent the spread of a virus that anyone can have without knowing.
No-one likes feeling suffocated while shopping, queuing or going about their daily activities, but stopping the spread really can save lives. Scientists like Davis know that more than any of us.
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