Face Masks and Covid Risks in Homes

Why should you use a face mask?

SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the disease, Covid-19 is spread by sharing breaths. When we breathe, water particles are released. The virus “attaches” to the water. The air-water particles are much larger and are easier to filter out than covid. A good visual example of what happens is exhaling when it is cold outside. Water droplets form in the air. Face Masks and Covid Risks in Homes is important to know about.

How tight the mask fits your face is very important. N95 masks are tight.  Surgical masks are loose. They protect the healthcare worker from giving bacteria or viruses to the patient during surgery.

The amount of virus exposure is a critical factor. The riskiest people are those who have symptoms such as coughing and sneezing. If infected, they expel large amounts of particles containing more virus.

What if you want more protection?

No face mask discussed in this post can keep outside air from coming in. You have to breathe the air to live.

To be safest, don’t let any person’s breath come inside your lungs. Wear a full body and head covering with oxygen supplied through a hose. The ultimate is a special containment room with no outside air coming in and air going out completely cleaned, used by pathogen researchers. Hoses run overhead from the air system to the researchers.

You may have seen recently on TV news that nurses and doctors caring for Covid patients sometimes use a portable device on their backs with long air hoses coming to their head and face coverings. They have complete body and head protection. I assume they use portable heavy-duty battery-operated air cleaners for the room air.

Which type of face masks to use inside homes

Click “continue reading” link for info about FDA approved n95 and surgical masks plus some info on cloth masks.

N95 masks (respirators) should be used by appraisers and others, such as repairpersons when going inside homes. If visiting someone out of your household, wear one. Surgical and cloth masks do not provide adequate protection to you.

I have a link below where you can check if n95 and surgical masks have an FDA Emergency Use Authorization. Be sure to check before you buy them.

Face masks for occupants of the home

To minimize your risk, whenever possible, let the occupants know they must wear face masks when you are inside their home. Tell them that you will give them inexpensive blue surgical masks, which people see and are familiar with. Or cloth masks. Don’t risk your health by trying to save a few dollars by not providing masks.

Types of N95 masks (respirators)

An N95 or equivalent mask offers the best protection and, if used properly, will filter out at least 95% of infectious particles. $5 each for one N95 mask is a typical price.

In China, the equivalent mask is the KN95 and in Europe the comparable designation is FFP2. The FDA has authorized for emergency use KN95 and FFP2 masks that have been tested to show that they offer comparable protection to an N95 mask.

CDC Recommendations for Fitting and Using n95 masks

Proper N95 Respirator Use for Respiratory Protection Preparedness This web page has many links and information.

Facial hair and n95 masks

Facial hair that lies along the sealing area of a respirator (n95 mask), such as beards, sideburns, or some mustaches, will interfere with respirators that rely on a tight facepiece seal to achieve maximum protection. Research says that the presence of facial hair under the sealing surface causes 20 to 1000 times more leakage compared to clean-shaven individuals.

CDC has an excellent chart with images of 36 different types facial hair – which are ok and which don’t work. Even if you don’t have facial hair it is interesting. I had never heard many of the strange names for them!. https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2018-130/pdfs/2018-130.pdf?id=10.26616/NIOSHPUB2018130

Surgical masks

Surgical masks are around 60% effective but quality matters. Levels 2 or 3 medical mask is best. Most of the masks sold on Amazon, which say they are for dust and allergens, aren’t surgical masks. They only look like the blue masks worn by nurses and doctors. A real medical-procedure mask will be cleared by the FDA and offering one of three levels of protection.

Surgical masks are not designed nor approved to provide protection against airborne particles. Surgical masks are designed to provide barrier protection against droplets. They are not regulated for particulate filtration efficiency and they do not form an adequate seal to the wearer’s face to be relied upon for respiratory protection.

Where to get lists of approved medical surgical and n95 masks

To read the FDA list of approved (Emergency Use Authorization) surgical and N95 masks and get more info, Click here

Cloth masks

Buy a thick one. Snug-fitting masks made of cotton polyester blends generally offer more protection. But even a very good cloth mask may only be about 30% effective; scarf or bandanna, 10% or less per Scott Gottlieb, former FHA commissioner.

For relatively low risk, such as non-crowded grocery stores with very high ceilings, I use close-fitting, flexible, very comfortable, 3-layer cloth masks costing $5 to $10 each. If I have a repair person coming inside my house, I use an n95 mask and have one available for the repair person, if needed.

I did not have time to research different types of cloth masks for this article. I will have a post on this important topic. My recent post has some information: New Mayo Clinic research: Reduce Risk with Cloth and Surgical Masks December 2, 2020

For now, read this excellent article: Time to Upgrade Your Mask? Excerpts: New research shows adding a filter and improving the fit makes a cloth mask work even better. Three layers are better than two. Flexible material is better. Ties are better than ear loops. (N95 masks have ties, not loops.)

Do masks protect the wearer?

How much masks protect the wearer is not certain. There is limited information. But, they make it safer for the person receiving the water particles. Many health care workers use them.

“There haven’t been good studies on protecting the wearer,” said Linsey Marr, an expert at Virginia Tech on the airborne transmission of viruses.

Face masks I use

I use all types, depending on my risk: cloth, medical-surgical, n95, and very close-fitting industrial respirators (that have round cartridges on each side of the mask). I received surgical masks to wear when I visited a friend in the hospital in January.

Cloth masks (3 layers) are the most comfortable, and I use them the most. I sometimes use medical surgical masks as they are lighter. I rarely go anywhere risky as I am 77 years old with diabetes. If I do, I use an n95 mask. Fortunately, I can afford not to appraise until it is safe. I am fortunate.

When we have bad smoke from nearby wildfires, I always use n95 or an industrial respirator outside, in my car, and inside my house. Two years ago we had a month of very bad air. It was like twilight and “nuclear dawn”. This year we had it for over a month. Smoke particles are in the air and are very small. They can come through around windows, even newer double-paned, which I have.

More advice on reducing risk when when breathing near someone

Speak softly whenever possible.

The louder you speak, the more breath is expelled. Your breath and attached virus particles come from the back of your throat. That is why the PCR tests take a swab from deep in your throat.

Other activities such as singing are very risky. I had vocal training from an opera singer. I learned how to expel as much breath as possible so you could be heard without a microphone.

Speaking outdoors is better than indoors
Whenever possible, speak with others outdoors, which is much less risky than indoors. Try to avoid speaking inside whenever possible.

Keep good physical distancing, especially inside. The closer you are to another person, the greater the risk, especially if the other person does not wear a mask or speaks too loud. This is particularly risky in homes, where it can be tough to distance.

Limit the time you are inside the home for appraisers and others working inside a home
Before you go inside, plan to move around very efficiently to minimize the time. Take lots of photos. Do measurements outside whenever possible. But, be sure you don’t move too fast and miss something. You do not want to make a second trip to the home.

Physical distancing – 3 ft. vs. 6 ft. vs. 13 ft. vs. ??? – new research August 27, 2020
New Mayo Clinic research: Reduce Risk with Cloth and Surgical Masks December 2, 2020
How face masks work: excellent animations November 4, 2020
Excellent Illustrations of Covid spreading indoors November 5, 2020
New CDC guidance on 15 minutes of intermittent COVID exposure November 4, 2020
A home is not always safe from Covid-19 November 3, 202
How to reduce Covid airborne transmission risk October 5, 2020
Covid-19 Residential Appraisers Tips on Staying Safe September 20, 2020
Covid Safety Tips When appraising apartments and non-residential buildings September 13, 2020

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