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Air Pollution & Virus Control: Why do people wear face masks?

As part of our blog series on air pollution, we talk about face masks and why people chose to wear them. Whether you think they are a great idea to stay protected, or make the wearer look like Bane from Batman, we delve deeper to find out why people wear them. From courtesy to sickness and protection from pollution to viruses - we’ve seen a rise of face masks across the globe in the 21st Century. 

Wearing masks in South East Asia is no rare sight. There are many reasons why wearing masks are more common there than in the West - including protection from pollution as well as helping keep hay fever allergy flare ups at bay. They are also used during flu seasons as a courtesy to others to stop the spread of wearer’s sickness or to protect the wearer themselves. And some people even wear masks to keep a little warmer in winter. As their has popularity grown in the past couple of decades, so did their designs and they have quickly turned into a fashion accessory as well. 

Man wearing face mask

In the West, using a face mask is still a rare sight - however, as of April 2020, with the global pandemic of Covid-19, many Europeans have taken to wearing face masks when out and about.

The current official recommendation in the United Kingdom and other Western countries is that the public should not wear face masks and that masks (respirator or surgical) need to be prioritised for health care workers. There has been a focus on washing hands, maintaining good hygiene and social distancing. However, as lockdown measures are reduced, some European governments are choosing to encourage or enforce the use of face masks when out in public. This is to primarily help stop the wearer from unknowingly infecting others if they are asymptomatic but carrying the Covid-19 coronavirus. 

There are two schools of thought on the widespread use of wearing masks:

On the one hand, medical masks that are being commonly worn by members of the public often do not fit snugly around the nose, cheeks and chin. Therefore, their ability to fully protect from inhalation of airborne virus droplets is reduced. Plus, the concern is that if there is a general recommendation for people to wear face masks, this would put further pressure on the supply for healthcare workers - which many countries are currently citing shortages of. 

people wearing face masks in the street

On the other hand, some experts such as David Hui, a respiratory medicine expert at the Chinese University of Hong Kong who studied the SARS outbreak, says it’s “common sense” that wearing a mask would protect against infectious diseases like Covid-19. Masks can give some protection and act as a barrier from the respiratory droplets, which is predominantly how the virus spreads. 

Primarily the use of a mask is two fold - to protect yourself from getting infected and to minimise the potential spread of an infection you may have but be unaware of.

In the Cochrane Review - there was a strong evidence during the 2003 SARS epidemic that supported the use of masks. One study of community transmission in Beijing found that “consistently wearing a mask in public was associated with a 70% reduction in the risk of catching SARS.” And at the end of March 2020, the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention began to review its guidelines and may recommend general mask use to guard against community infection. 

female wearing a pollution scarf next to a bicycle

Since the beginning of the Covid-19 outbreak, Asian governments have recommended people wear masks in public, whether they are showing virus symptoms or not. The impact of SARS saw a rise in the use of masks in South East Asia, especially Hong Kong. With some European governments already advising people to wear a face mask to protect against coronavirus when they are out in public, we may see a rise in different types of masks and filter scarves that can fit seamlessly into our lives.

So, should you rush out and stockpile masks for protection during the current Covid-19 pandemic or future flu seasons? Not quite. Stockpiling anything can often put unnecessary pressure on existing supply chains. Reflecting on why you might want to start wearing a mask is a good place to start and then asking yourself if you feel you need to. Do your own research to find out what type of mask you may require based on your needs before purchasing and always remember to buy wisely rather than stockpile. The CYCL Face Guard Pollution Scarf was originally designed for cyclists commuting through heavy traffic, our Face Guard Pollution Scarf is a tube scarf with an integrated nanofiber filter, filtering 99.5% of .1um (PM 0.1) and offering protection from airborne particles such as pollution, allergens and viruses. With its adjustable nose strip and elastic cord ensure a close fit to the face. Find out more about what's inside a CYCL Face Guard Pollution Scarf. It offers a highly protective solution to those who may feel more confident with filter protection when out and about.

Shop now: CYCL Face Guard Pollution Scarf - £39.99

You might be interested in:

Tips for Avoiding Air Pollution in the City and Air Pollution & Virus Control: Why Do People Wear Face Masks

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