Wearing a face mask is now a huge part of modern life, and for good reason. Covering your face can help protect you and others from spreading coronavirus amidst the ongoing pandemic, and is now required by law in places such as on public transport and in shops.
While there are a whole host of brilliant face masks you can buy, many of us have also been making our own at home. But whether you’re wearing a homemade one or not, it’s important to understand that these masks do not provide the same level of coverage as medical-grade PPE that is worn by healthcare workers.
There are however ways to determine how effective your face mask is in preventing the spread of droplets from coughing, sneezing, or even speaking. Simon Kolstoe, who is the Senior Lecturer in Evidence Based Healthcare and University Ethics Advisor at University of Portsmouth, has written a piece for The Conversation detailing two simple tests you can try to see how effective your chosen mask is.
The first is the vape test. If you or anyone you know vapes, you can use this to determine how much protection your mask is giving. Vape while wearing the mask, and you will be able to see where the vapour spreads. When wearing masks, it tends to direct over the top of your head, down onto the chest and behind you. In other words, it does not spread how it would if you were not wearing a mask, which can reflect how droplets would spread. Try the vaping test with several different types and shapes of mask to determine which is best for you.
If you don’t have access to a vape, a simple candle will do. While being careful of the flame, Kolstoe recommends holding a lit candle in front of your face covering to determine how effective it is.
He writes: ‘Initially, the distance coupled with the strength of exhalation could be investigated, but then face coverings made from different materials and critically with different numbers of layers could be tried. The design of face-covering that made it hardest to divert the candle flame will probably provide the best barrier for projecting the virus forward and through the face covering.’