Wednesday | 06 May | 2020
By Wilma Bedford
Masks are now becoming part of our daily outfits.
Masks are centuries old and served as deterrent against evil spirits, in warfare to instil fear in the enemy, and in the performing arts to depict the identity of a character. Certainly the most well-known, particularly in the latter field, are the two masks used together and depicting grief and happiness. Internationally China is known for its huge dragon mask which is paraded during the Chinese New Year, and which, ironic in this time, is a symbol of prosperity and welfare.
The mouth-and-nose mask also has modern symbolism. Since the 1890s this mask has been used as protection against germs, after which it became a symbol of solidarity against social misconduct, such as silence about rapes and for abortion activists. The mask has already made its appearance on the runway of fashion houses and is sure to from now on also symbolise status, political affiliation or a social problem.
Currently the mask symbolises solidarity with the combating of an invisible enemy, and a civil duty, but because it is also worn daily, it will become the most prized fashion accessory and send out a subtle message to the world. Because the lower part of the face is covered and the eyes might sometimes hide behind sunglasses, the signs of a person’s character are also hidden and the mask will be the first indication of the person. Your mask could be the white medical mask which reflects the seriousness, solidarity and a collective fear, a pin-stripe which proclaims professional expertise, or the denim that sends a message about your personality and mood. Whatever the case may be, after a year of having to wear the mask, it will have the same value as other essential accessories, such as the sunglasses we put on daily or the pen we involuntarily stick into our jacket pocket – it will make out part of our daily dress code.
Why is the wearing of masks compulsory? To protect others against you and you against others. It has been found that 25% of infected persons don’t know they are infected because they feel well but in actual fact are infectious – you could be one of them! Your mask protects you not only against outgoing infection, but also against incoming infection.
Because surgical masks are out of reach of many people, they turn to home-made masks and in many cases it has expanded to a profitable home-industry, but it is of extreme importance to use the right material in the making thereof. If one keeps in mind that the coronavirus has a circumference of between 60 and 140 nanometres, it is advisable to use material with the best filtration capacity; therefore that worn-out recycled T-shirt won’t be a good choice, although some protection is better than no protection. Hold the material against the light and if fibres are visible, the material is not dense enough for an effective mask. Make the mask with double-layered material.
Although it has been suggested that coffee filters and vacuum machine filters can be used as an outer layer, both are not good ideas; one will suffocate you and the other might contain fibreglass dust that is extremely harmful. So, what to do? Use pantyhose material.
Recent research at the Northwestern University, Boston, Massachusetts, found that the use of nylon pantyhose as a middle layer or as a cover for a mask offers 15-50% more effective filtration than an ordinary material mask and that when the pantyhose is used as cover for a surgical mask, the latter is 75-90% more effective.
To be safe, especially if you have school-going children, the ideal is to have five sets of masks per person. It has not yet been established with certainty for how long the virus remains active on clothes and therefore on a mask, but it is speculated that it could be up to twelve hours. Wash your masks with soap and water and where possible, hang in the sun to dry; the virus apparently becomes inactive at 30ºC. Rotate your mask every day.
Wear your mask, wash your hands and be safe.
History of Surgical Face Masks
Spooner, J. 1967. Aorn Journal. http://www.aornjournal.onlinelibrary.wiley.com
Should Masks be a Fashion Statement? Friedman, V. April 22, 2020. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com
* All information was correct at the time of publication.