N95 Masks Aren’t Likely Enough

Those N95 masks we all hear about, the ones that were hoarded and often resold for multiples of their previous price, likely aren’t enough to stop COVID19 from finding your nasal and bronchial passages. This also means that regular medical masks and definitely ones made from simple cloth won’t stop invasion either.

Just this morning, I read an article in the New York Times  called “Coronavirus: Which Mask Should You Wear?” by Tara Parker-Pope, Rachel Abrams, Eden Weingart, and Toni Cenicola. It said about the N95 mask that “…it can block 95 percent of tiny particles — 0.3 microns — that are the hardest to capture. Immediately I wanted to draw a comparison to the size of the virus that causes COVID19. I found several online sources from national and international medical authorities that state the COVID19 virus’ size is between 40 and 60 nanometers. Now I needed a conversion. Apparently, there are 1,000 nanometers in a micron. By my math, that means that .3 microns would be equivalent to 300 nanometers. This means that our evil little 40 to 60 nanometer virus would fit nicely through the holes in an N95 mask. Another way to picture things is a basketball going through a hoop the width of a common car. Doesn’t seem too difficult a toss.

N95 masks are the best of the masks available right now. All other masks would possess pore sizes much larger than N95 masks, thus making the quest of COVID19 many times easier. My next thought was then whether any mask is beneficial to prevent exposure. One aspect that we must consider is that the virus travels in moisture particles from a host to another potential host. Since it is housed in that watery vapor, it is possible, I think, to say that some vapor may attach itself to the mask fibers and still contain the virus inside it. If that is true, then yes, masks could provide some protection. Another aspect to consider is whether the virus particle, once the moisture dries on the mask, can then become dislodged and move through mask pores. On this, I am unsure. If I find evidence, I’ll let you know.

What then bothers me even more is that medical personnel are given N95 masks as their protection. Seems to me that doesn’t make any sense at all. I’ve heard about many medical personnel getting ill and it makes sense. There are many more particles of moisture circulating in an environment of a hospital where there are confirmed patients. More particles of moisture equals a higher concentration of virus and thus a higher likelihood that virus gets through the protection. I am also thinking of those pandemic movies where people are in full hazmat suits with separate breathing mechanisms and think that perhaps those systems are what medical personnel actually need to protect themselves. Nowhere in the world has supplies great enough of these kinds of equipment to use in scenarios like this one. Should they? Should there be a supply on hand at all times and how many? Where should they be placed? Stored? Who distributes and controls the supply? Too many questions in too many realms to answer here.

What I’m worried about is a virus or bacterial agent that aerosolizes better than COVID19 and has higher infective rates and death rates. What happens then? What’s the plan? I say this because as the world population gets larger, people and animals are moved closer together. It makes it that much easier for a highly virulent and deadly pathogen to get a start, which is all it needs.

Keep reading this week. I have several new essays coming up that tie into the science of the crisis. One will take you through my thinking about the carrying capacity of the earth and how that affects us moving forward. Another is one that I’ve really been thinking a lot on: entropy and how it can be used for pathogen control. I also have a somewhat fun essay that predicts what could happen in the next few months as antibody tests and other tests come forth that will hopefully allow civilization to open up.

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