- The CDC made a big change to its face masks guidelines last week, advising people to avoid respirators that have exhalation valves or vents.
- ”Masks with one-way valves or vents allow exhaled air to be expelled out through holes in the material,” the updated guidelines read.
- The change comes days after the Indian government instructed its people not to wear N95 respirators with valves.
- Needless to say, you can cover the valve on your mask and still be perfectly safe while wearing them.
Instead of being a simple tool everyone can use to keep themselves and their loved ones safe during the pandemic, the face mask became the most divisive item of the year. In some western countries, people wrongly mistake advice and mandates to wear face covers while in public for a tool the local government has devised to control the masses. Other people claim face masks reduce oxygenation, which is incredibly wrong as we recently proved ourselves. Then there are people who think COVID-19 doesn’t really exist or that the virus can’t infect them. As a result, people who defy face mask use are among the first groups of people to infect themselves and their loved ones. And we keep hearing time and again from coronavirus deniers who have learned what the virus can do to their bodies after ignoring safety measures, mask-wearing includes.
We’ve seen plenty of studies already that prove face masks are effective at slowing the spread of COVID-19. And studies have shown what sort of homemade masks can offer the best protection. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued face mask guidelines in early April, but the agency has now quietly updated its guidelines to warn people not to use masks that have valves. The new recommendation mimics a similar decision from Indian authorities a few weeks ago that instructed citizens to avoid N95 respirators with valves.
The CDC revised its guidelines on August 6th, as spotted by Spectrum News. The agency added a section titled “Masks with Exhalation Valves or Vents” to the page, that offers the following paragraph:
The purpose of masks is to keep respiratory droplets from reaching others to aid with source control. Masks with one-way valves or vents allow exhaled air to be expelled out through holes in the material. This can allow exhaled respiratory droplets to reach others and potentially spread the COVID-19 virus. Therefore, CDC does not recommend using masks or if they have an exhalation valve or vent.
Studies earlier this year showed that people can eject differently-sized particles into the air as they talk, sing, cough, and sneeze. Saliva droplets are larger, and they’re usually forcefully expelled during a sneeze or a cough, propelling to various distances and then falling on surfaces and people. Then there are the microdroplets that are much smaller in size, and these ones are ejected during regular speech. The water in them evaporates before they can land, and they’re turned into aerosols that can float in the air for a longer time and travel farther than regular droplets.
Face masks can help stop both of these types of droplets, but the CDC and the Indian government now both warn against covers that have air vents on them. Here’s what a letter from the Director-General of Health Services (DGHS) in the Indian Ministry of Health said on the matter a few weeks ago:
It is to bring to your knowledge that the use of valved respirator N-95 masks is detrimental to the measures adopted for preventing the spread of coronavirus as it does not prevent the virus from escaping out of the mask. In view of the above, I request you to instruct all concerned to follow the use of face/mouth cover and prevent inappropriate use of N-95 masks.
At the time, we speculated that the Indian government might be looking to conserve N95 supply for medical workers since the same letter advised people to make their own multi-layered face masks. India has the world’s third-largest COVID-19 caseload with more than 2.2 million cases as of Monday morning.
The CDC’s face mask page had included a recommendation against surgical masks or respirators since before the agency updated it last week, stressing that medical equipment is in critical supply for healthcare workers:
The masks recommended here are not surgical masks or respirators. Currently, those are critical supplies that should be reserved for healthcare workers and other first responders. Masks are not personal protective equipment (PPE). They are not appropriate substitutes for PPE such as respirators (like N95 respirators) or medical facemasks (like surgical masks) in workplaces where respirators or facemasks are recommended or required to protect the wearer.
The CDC guidelines also recommend other measures to be used together with face masks, including “including social distancing, frequent handwashing, and cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces.” But the CDC has omitted one important point from it’s revised guidelines: wearing a face mask with a valve is perfectly safe for those around you if you cover the valve with cloth. You can also take over the valve on the interior or exterior to ensure that nothing will escape.