Context:  Recently, the office of the Principal Scientific Adviser to the government issued a detailed manual on how to make home-made masks and recommended it to everyone, especially those living in densely populated areas, to protect themselves from novel coronavirus disease.

Should everyone wear a mask?

  • India: The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare had earlier said that everyone “need not” wear masks.
  • World Health Organisation: non-infected persons should wear masks only if they are caring for sick ones. 
  • US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Non-infected persons should wear masks only if they are caring for sick ones.However, it is being reconsidered.

Need of the mask

  1. COVID-19 disease is being transmitted through air droplets that are released.It prevents the droplets from entering the respiratory system. 
    1. According to the New England Journal of Medicine the virus could remain in the air for up to three hours. 
    2. Masks reduce the possibility of the virus getting inside the respiratory tract. 
  2. It prevents people from touching their mouth and nose directly - The virus is also known to survive on plastic, steel and copper surfaces for several hours, and there is a risk in people touching these surfaces and then touching their mouth or nose.
  3. The virus is also being spread by asymptomatic patients. As such, in public places, one cannot be sure whether an infected person is in close proximity or not.

Previous advice against wearing masks: 

  1. To ensure that there is no run on the professional quality masks that are needed by healthcare professionals, who are at maximum risk.
  2. High demand:  severe shortage of professional masks.
  3. The advice had come at a time when the virus was not known to stay in the air for any significant amount of time.

Now, the latest research is forcing a rethink.The research published showed that the novel coronavirus can indeed survive in the air for up to three hours.

Efficiency of professional masks: 

  • N95 masks: it is able to block at least 95% of particles in the air that are of the size 0.3 microns or bigger (1 micron is a millionth of a metre). A single SARS-CoV2 virus is typically up to 0.2 microns in size, so it can possibly penetrate the N95 mask.
  • The virus is enclosed in air droplets which are a few microns in size. That is why ,the N95 is a very good barrier to virus entry.
  • The typical surgical masks worn by medical staff whose main purpose is to keep out large droplets of wearer’s saliva from going out.

Homemade masks:

  • Better than not having a mask at all: Home-made masks might not be as effective in blocking outside particles as professional masks.
  • Simple masks made of cotton cloth do keep out larger particles. And these can be washed and reused multiple times.

Latest recommendation:

  • Although it might not be sufficient as stated by the office of the Principal Scientific Adviser but it strongly recommends that people wear home-made masks.
  • Masks are effective only when used in combination with frequent hand-cleaning with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
  • For people living in densely populated areas: It says use of clean masks “will be vital” to stopping the spread of the virus.

How to sew a mask at home?



Image Source: the hindu