Masks Work: Improving Your Experience

The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on January 30th, 2020. During this time, the CDC has strongly recommended that you maintain a six feet distance from others and wear face masks while in public. While this hasn’t been an easy adjustment, there’s now strong evidence that our efforts have been and will continue to be worth it as these practices do lower the risk of spreading coronavirus.

A study published this month in The Lancet has provided the strongest evidence supporting that these practices, social distancing and wearing face masks, do indeed lower the risk of spreading COVID-19. Led by senior author Dr. Holger Schunemann, professor of clinical epidemiology and medicine at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, an international group of scientists analyzed 72 studies, conducted in 16 different countries, that examined the connection between preventative practices (social distancing, wearing masks, and wearing eye protection for health care workers) and the risk of transmitting the virus. These observational studies tracked the infection rates among people who followed these practices. Forty-four studies also included comparisons between people who adhered to these behaviors virus those who did not, involving more than 25,000 participants.

In regards to social distancing, the study showed that, on average, the risk of being infected while less than 3 ft away from an infected person was up to 13%. However, when that distance was increased to 3 ft, the risk lowered to 3%. The further people stood apart from one another, the lower the risk was. The risk actually dropped by half for every additional 3 ft of distancing, up to 10 ft. “What this evidence suggests is that two meters, or 6.7 feet, appears that it might be more protective than one meter or three feet,” explains Dr. Schunemann.

This study also supported the benefits of eye shields for health care workers and those living in households with an infected person. Among people who wore some form of eye protection, either glasses, goggles, or face shields, the risk of infection was 6%, compared to 16% among those not wearing protection. “I was surprised by the magnitude of the effect,” says Schunemann. “In epidemiology we often see small effects, and all the effects we saw here are considered large or very large.”

There has been concern about the effectiveness of homemade face masks versus surgical and N95 masks. However, a recent study, published in the scientific journal Proceedings of the Royal Society A, suggests that even homemade masks can effectively reduce the spread of COVID-19 if enough people wear them while in public. The study reads, “It is also possible that this low-level technology, including homemade masks, could reduce the severe global economic impact of COVID-19, which has the potential to cause billions of people to suffer shortened life expectancy because of a reduced standard of living.” The essential takeaway message from these studies in regards to the widespread adoption of face masks is “my mask protects you, your mask protects me.”

A 2013 study in the journal Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness examined the effectiveness of homemade masks compared to commercial face masks. The researchers concluded that both provided protection, the surgical masks however were three times more effective in blocking transmission. A homemade mask is significantly better than no protection.

Now that we can feel reassured that our masks are protecting us as well as others, it’s important to do what we can to make wearing them enjoyable, especially as the hot weather starts to approach. One way to do that is by adding a few drops of essential oil to the inside of your mask, which I had talked about in one of my previous posts, Improving Your Face Mask with Thieves Oil.

Thieves oil is a wonderful way to improve the effectiveness of your mask as it is anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-viral, while smelling wonderful. However, you can use whichever essential oil that you prefer. If you don’t have a preference or are unsure which essential oil to try, Thieves Oil, Basil, or Lemon could be excellent options. Thieves oil helps boost your immune system while promoting respiratory and cardiovascular health, which COVID-19 attacks. If you’ve been feeling stressed by these lockdowns, Basil helps provide relief from nervous tension, mental fatigue, melancholy, migraines, and depression. Lemon also helps reduce depression and anxiety symptoms while perking up your mood with its refreshing scent, allowing you to feel alert and may help to boost your brainpower.

While continuing these practices as we wait for life to return back to normal, we can now rest assured that our efforts are helping prevent the spread. As the weather gets warmer, unfortunately following these preventative measures, especially wearing face masks, will become more uncomfortable. However, through the use of essential oils, we can calm ourselves with their wonderful smell and enjoy the additional benefits they offer us. So every day you go out and wear your mask, remind yourself that you are protecting everyone around you and they’re protecting you too.

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