BEIRUT: While more than 50 countries mandate wearing masks in public, mask-wearing is still a topic of fierce debate in the world.
As of May 29, face masks became obligatory in Lebanon under the penalty of paying a 50,000 LBP fine.
International politicians spar over the topic with a growing number of scientific studies supporting the idea that masks are a critical tool in curbing the spread of the coronavirus. Much of the confusion around masks stems from the conflation of two very different functions of masks.
Health myths about masks flood social media. People argued that wearing masks will lower oxygen levels or cause carbon dioxide poisoning while others feared they’ll develop bacterial infections from moist, sweaty masks or weaken their immune system’s ability to fight off colds.
Masks work by filtering and suppressing air particles; if someone is infected but does not have symptoms (what is known as asymptomatic) the particles from the mouth, nose, and back of the throat come out when they breathe and spread out within approximately 2 meters. The mask can stop some particles from spreading freely and pushes some air down instead of out.
Designing face masks
WHO has released guidance on cloth masks; recommending that they consist of at least three layers of different materials: an inner layer being an absorbent material like cotton, a middle layer of non-woven materials such as polypropylene, for the filter, and an outer layer, which is a nonabsorbent material such as a polyester or a polyester blend.
To develop the guidance, authorities consulted with a range of international experts from different countries and disciplines such as infectious diseases and epidemiology. Their review of a variety of evidence demonstrated some new findings, including that face protections, respirators or medical masks, can result in a large reduction of transmission of coronaviruses, including COVID-19.
WHO officials stressed that masks should only ever be used as part of an overall comprehensive strategy. "The cornerstone of the response in every country must be to find, isolate, test and care for every case and to trace and quarantine every contact", said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.
Producing such masks and persuading large numbers of people to wear them poses engineering, manufacturing, and marketing challenges that may ultimately require tradeoffs.
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