Getting Americans masked up is a top priority for the Biden administration. Biden, who calls wearing masks “a patriotic act,” signed an executive order Wednesday his very first as President to ask Americans to wear masks of their choice for the first 100 days of the new administration. The executive order also requires mask use on all federal property, though in this case, not just any old mask will do.
On Wednesday, after the inauguration, White House press secretary Jen Psaki showed off her bright white N95 mask in the press briefing room. “I wore it out, of course, here today and will continue to do that,” Psaki said after removing her medical-grade mask and before turning to questions.
N95 masks are considered the gold standard in personal protective equipment because they block 95% of large and small particles utilizing a unique electrostatic filter.
The filter works by trapping neutral particles like bacteria and viruses before they pass through the mask, protecting the wearer and those around them. It’s similar to how socks might get stuck to a blanket in the dryer. The N95 mask, which costs roughly $5, also fits securely to the face, eliminating most of the leakage that may occur with a loose-fitting cloth or paper mask.
Studies have shown that masks significantly decrease the chances of transmitting or contracting the coronavirus. But not all masks provide equal protection. Depending on the fabric and number of layers, homemade and simple cloth masks have a range of effectiveness that can be as low as 26%, which leaves the wearer vulnerable. Some experts like Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School physician Dr Abraar Karan have been advocating for public use of N95 masks from the start of the pandemic. In an interview with CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr Sanjay Gupta, Karan outlined why N95s are critical at this stage of the pandemic.
“If for four weeks the country essentially wore these masks in those risky settings like that indoors, what kind of difference do you think it would make?” Gupta asked.
The key here is to always wear a mask whenever you’re in public. One study in Lancet Digital Health found that a 10% increase in mask-wearing could lead to a three-fold increase in the odds of maintaining control over virus transmission in a community. The ability to control the spread of the coronavirus is in our hands and on our faces.
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