I need to vent my spleen. I have seen far too many FRC participants wearing their masks improperly or not at all, and I know that I am not the only one who feels this way. Quite frankly I find it disturbing and upsetting. We’ve all been in a pandemic for over two years now, we all know how to wear a mask properly. Pleading ignorance at this point is asinine. I will skip the selfish and ignorant excuses I have heard and focus on the reasons that can be addressed with logic.
Why on earth should you listen to me?
Masking and respiratory protection has been a personal and professional responsibility of mine for over a decade. These include:
N95 for welding/grinding/demolition
Full-face respirator for handling bromine, hydrochloric acid, and other battery chemicals
ISO Class 6 and 4 cleanroom garments (which includes a facemask/balaclava)
I have worked 8-12 hours days, sometimes doing manual labor, in all of the above protective equipment (uphill both ways in the snow with my tuba, I know). Occasionally without any environmental controls like AC or dehumidifiers. Sometimes outside or in a welding shop that was 80-90°F. Yeah, I know, it sucks. But there are things you can do to make it suck less.
Leave the cloth masks at home. Cloth masks were a great stop-gap in the early pandemic when other masks were not available to the general public. Cloth masks are deficient in many areas: cloth isn’t a purpose-made filter media, they rub against your face and lips, and they are flimsy enough to pull up against your mouth during inhalation, causing extra breathing restrictions. I do not like wearing cloth masks.
Surgical masks are pretty darn good. Surgeons wear these for hours on end to protect their patients during surgery where infection risks are tremendous. However, operating theaters also have staggeringly great HVAC and environmental control to keep the air clean, so it is not as if surgical masks are a silver bullet by themselves. What they do have going for them is: a wire around the nose bridge to aid in sealing, material designed to be a good filter media for respiration products, and a general design to be worn comfortably for extended periods.
I still find them to be uncomfortable after extended times. If I have any stubble it tends to ‘fuzz up’ the mask material and tickle or itch my face. Going clean-shaven helps these masks a lot, as does face lotion and chapstick if you find the mask sliding against your skin a lot. They are also the easiest to speak through, which many find valuable. My youngest daughter has cochlear implants, so I use surgical masks when I need to wear a mask around her.
Full-face respirators and 3/4 respirators are effective ONLY if they filter exhalants in addition to inhalants. This design is exceedingly rare, but available if you hunt for them. I only wear these styles when absolutely necessary. They tend to muffle your voice the most of any mask, require daily cleaning, and the cartridges can be expensive and require replacement at regular intervals. I use these in extreme situations: handling battery chemicals and ‘thermal events,’ particularly nasty demolition, and such. I would not recommend them as a practical solution for COVID. You also need to be clean-shaven for them to work at peak efficiency.
KN/N95 masks (without an exhalation valve) are the best all-around solution for COVID, particularly when you need to wear safety glasses. They have a soft foam nose-bridge seal, keeping your glasses clear. They are formed to not contact most of your face, keeping irritation down, and have more filter area than cloth or surgical masks, reducing restriction on breathing. They protect both the user of the mask and those around them. They can be reused (after drying out/waiting for any viruses to die) and can even be cleaned if you have the right equipment.
Now, why do people skip wearing a mask?
Wearing a mask hurts my face!
You might be wearing a size that’s too small or have straps that are too tight. Revisit that choice, see about headbands or strap holders to improve comfort. If you have a big ol’ melony noggin like me: go for the over-head and/or behind-neck straps. Those are the best IMO, especially since your ears won’t have to deal with glasses AND mask straps. As I mentioned earlier: lotion, chapstick, and even athletic tape (electrical tape works in a pinch) can help reduce chaffing and improve comfort.
Wearing a mask makes my glasses fog up!
That means your mask isn’t doing its job because it is not sealed well. Full stop. COVID viruses are transported in microscopic water droplets, and those are what are condensing on your glasses, meaning the mask is not catching them. There are several solutions: wear a KN/N95, the nose seal with stop this leakage; tape the top edge of your mask to your face, athletic tape will stop leakage in this area; apply anti-fogging treatment to your glasses, there are plenty of wipes that work, or even a dry-rub of dish soap can do wonders (although not as good as sealing up your mask of course).
Wearing a mask makes it harder to breathe!
Yeah, it kinda does. But if you spend a little time focusing on breathing through the mask, and replacing it when it gets too moist, you will do okay. KN/N95 helps here too: the masks shape keeps it from getting sucked up against your face, letting you use the whole filtration area even when breathing hard. Your mask will plug up over time, especially with moisture, making it more restrictive to breathe through. Changing your mask a couple times over the day will mitigate this and keep you breathing easier.
I sympathize with the discomfort of wearing a mask. I wish we did not have to. But COVID is not over yet. People are still being hospitalized and dying from infections, some of which would have been prevented by wearing a mask (properly). Give the above a careful and thoughtful read and consider how you can mitigate your own discomfort while still protecting yourself and those around you.