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  • Writer's pictureRob Swanda, PhD

Let’s Face(Mask) This Pandemic Together

Updated: Jan 12, 2022

Words by Rob Swanda with contribution from @ProjectN95

When sunbathing, sunscreen is applied to limit the exposure of harmful UVB rays. When driving or riding in a vehicle, a seat belt is worn to aid in protecting one’s body in the event that the vehicle is involved in an accident. These measures are not guaranteed to prevent a sunburn or car accident-related injury, but taking such measures mitigates these unfavorable events. We take these steps because at a minimum we recognize from accumulated data that these actions work to safeguard our health. However, as that data adjusts, so do the measures. Straightforward, unchallenging guidelines additionally aid in intercepting an overwhelmed healthcare system.

Hospitals and healthcare workers across the world serve as models for upholding the sterility and cleanliness required for maintaining public health, safety, and hygiene standards. Within the same hospital building, it is commonplace to see a separation of staff, patients, equipment, and supplies to avoid cross-contamination. For example, the Infectious Diseases Ward and the Maternity Ward are housed separately. However, distance is only one clear measure that is taken to separate ill patients. Another straightforward measure is the use of personal protective equipment or ‘PPE’ by hospital staff and patients alike to avoid spreading pathogens.

PPE is not new. It is employed widely in the medical field, but additionally used in construction, agriculture, aviation, mining, painting, pest control, and manufacturing. Workers all over the world have had workplace mask mandates for years without question, controversy or debate. For the past century fighting for better working conditions continues to be pushed into legislation. This has, and continues to include proper PPE.

Many industries and workers wear face masks classified as PPE. Medically speaking, when worn correctly, PPE personally protects the user from exuding excessive respiratory droplets while simultaneously mitigating the amount of aerosol particles from entering the users’ respiratory tract. As the SARS-CoV-2 virus swept across the world debates on face masks quickly took the center stage. While health care providers worked tirelessly to save COVID-19 positive patients and scientists labored at better understanding the virus to create a vaccine, wearing a mask unfortunately became a dispute. During this time of dispute, multiple peer-reviewed articles found that the average size of human respiratory droplets are <5 μm. Meaning that wearing an N95 mask gives the user the most protection against viral containing particles, and even the commonly used surgical and 3-ply cloth masks can serve great protection for respiratory droplets of this size.

We are now 18 months into the COVID-19 pandemic and our understanding of the virus has evolved. In the initial days of the outbreak masks were spared for the essential workers who desperately needed them. But following economics, as the demand for masks went up so did the supply. And, although there are different types of masks the end goal is similar. Stopping the spread of respiratory droplets that are released from one’s mouth. It’s these respiratory droplets that contain the largest amount of virus in a COVID-19 positive individual. A mask’s effectiveness can be easily demonstrated when one tries to cough, sneeze, or even spit while wearing one. The mask acts as a barrier preventing the person’s saliva or mucus from traveling a farther distance. Recently, the CDC updated their science brief on the use of cloth face masks. They have inserted studies citing several investigations from around the world where face masks either were or were not worn.

A hair salon in Springfield, Missouri where two COVID-19 positive staff interacted with 139 clients over an 8-day period. Both staff wore face masks the entire time. There is zero known related transmission of COVID-19.

Following an outbreak aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt, the use of face masks is associated with a 70% reduced risk of infection.

A study in Kansas showed that in counties with mask mandates the COVID-19 diagnosis rate fell, whereas the diagnosis rate continued to increase in counties without mask mandates.

Sadly, the alarm bells have never stopped ringing. COVID-19 is unknowingly and silently spreading in some of our homes, schools, workplaces, and public spaces. Yet another surge of COVID-19 infections are occurring right now. And, despite the vaccines working remarkably well, until we can severely reduce the amount of SARS-CoV-2 virus within the community we need to take additional safety precautions. Despite sometimes being uncomfortable or awkward, one of these precautions is continuing to wear a mask. This is just one of the accessible instruments in our toolbox to mitigate the spread of SARS-CoV-2.

Scientists and medical experts across the world wear face masks in their workplaces every day, even without a pandemic. When these experts tell us that wearing a face mask will protect us, our neighbors, and our families, we should all listen.

"Not all masks are the same. Making sure you are wearing highly protective masks from a trusted source is critical, particularly as the Delta variant spreads." - Anne Miller, Executive Director Project N95.

Read more about the critical work of Project N95 at


Face Mask Guide

Face Mask Guide for
Face Mask Guide for


Wearing A Mask to Stop COVID-19

Data Sources:

ACS Nano. (2020, 05 14). Aerosol Filtration Efficiency of Common Fabrics Used in Respiratory Cloth Masks.

Retrieved from

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). The Science of Masking to Control COVID-19 pdf icon. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Retrieved 08 09, 2021, from

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, 05 07). Science Brief: Community Use of Cloth Masks to Control the Spread of SARS-CoV-2.

Retrieved from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

Nature. (2020, 09 24). Efficacy of masks and face coverings in controlling outward aerosol particle emission from expiratory activities.

Retrieved from

Nature. (2020, 10 06). Face masks: what the data say.

Retrieved from

U.S. Food & Drug Administration. (2021, 09 09). Face Masks, Including Surgical Masks, and Respirators for COVID-19.

Retrieved from U.S. Food & Drug Administration:

Wikipedia. (2021, 08 09). Dust mask.

Retrieved from Wikipedia:

Wikipedia. (2021, 08 09). N95 respirator.

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Wikipedia. (2021, 08 09). Personal protective equipment.

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World Health Organization. (2020, 08 21). Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Children and masks.

Retrieved from World Health Organization:

World Health Organization. (2021, 08 09). When and how to use masks.

Retrieved from World Health Organization:


Author: Rob Swanda of


Title: Let’s Face(Mask) This Pandemic Together

Date first published: 16 August 2021


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