Experts: This mask will not stop spread of coronavirus
Wearing masks during the COVID-19 pandemic is intended to protect the people who have them on and everyone around them.
However, experts said one popular kind of mask may not protect others from potential infection.
Masks that have a one-way valve — meaning they filter the air being breathed in, but not the air being exhaled — could allow for the spread of virus particles, some care providers cautioned.
“We are glad to see people embracing masks, but not all masks are the same,” said Dr. Diane Kantaros, chief quality officer for Nuvance Health, a health system that includes Norwalk, Danbury, and New Milford hospitals, among others.
She said if someone wears the one-way masks, the filter will offer them some protection from breathing in harmful particles, including those of the virus that are in the air. But, as the name suggests, the masks don’t work the other way around.
“So, if you’re sick, you’re releasing whatever droplets you might have into the air and you’re not controlling the spread,” Kantaros said.
That’s a particular concern, as so many infected people can be asymptomatic, she said.
Dr. Tom Balcezak, chief clinical officer for Yale New Haven Health System, agreed. During a virtual press conference this week, he said the one-way masks are not necessarily designed to protect against the spread of illness.
“Those are primarily for environments where there is dust or some environmental contaminant, where you are able to breathe in, pulling the air through the filtering part of the mask,” he said. “When you exhale, the valve opens and the air goes directly out into the environment around you.”
The good news, Balcezak said, is that the mask actually does “a great job” of protecting the person wearing it, as long as it fits properly.
“But if you’re wearing it as source control (to prevent the spread of the virus), the theoretical risk is that, when you cough or breathe, and if you have the virus, then the air will escape through that valve,” he said.
Balcezak and Kantaros said there’s a sort of mask hierarchy. The N95 respirators worn by health care professionals are the gold standard, doing the best job of protecting both wearer and those around them.
The simple surgical-style masks, largely used in the health care setting, are slightly lower down the scale, with homemade fabric face masks ranked below them.
The one-way valve masks are somewhere in the middle, depending on the user’s goal.
“My opinion is that it’s better than nothing,” Balcezak said.
However, other health professionals have a stronger stance against the masks.
“We have seen increased use of these masks here and are making efforts to eliminate their use,” said Dr. Michael Parry, chairman of infectious diseases for Stamford Health. “They are great masks for filtering out dust particles as you inhale, but allow respiratory droplets to escape out from the wearer — exactly what we do not want to happen.”