Now Even N95 Masks with a Valve Are Not Safe? Is There Anything We Know About Covid-19 for Certain?


Now Even N95 Masks with a Valve Are Not Safe? Is There Anything We Know About Covid-19 for Certain?

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

Earlier this month, India surpassed Russia to become the third country in the world to be worst affected by the novel coronavirus. The total number of infections have mounted to 11,55,191 and we’ve lost more than 28,000 people to the disease since the first case was reported in the country in January. We’ve been under lockdown – one of the harshest in the world – for close to four months. You’d think by now, we’d have got some basics right like which mask is the safest.

But as we “unlock” with abandon, the government has delivered a shocker: The N-95 masks with valved respirators, which people have been using for months now, are not as safe as we think.

They do not prevent the virus from spreading and are “detrimental” to measures adopted for its containment, according to a PTI report.

In a letter sent to states, the Director General of Health Services said that there has been an “inappropriate” use of N-95 masks, especially those with valved respirators by the public. “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,” DGHS Rajiv Garg said in the letter.

The DGHS has instead emphasised on the use of homemade protective cover for the face and mouth. In April, the government had issued an advisory on the use of homemade masks made of cotton cloth, which need to be washed every day.

The latest advisory of course has left many confused. If health workers are wearing N-95 respirators why can’t the public?

But there is a difference. An N-95 respirator has a two-way valve which filters particles while inhaling and exhaling. These are mostly used by medical professionals given their exposure to the virus. The one-way valve, which is largely sold in the India market, does not filter aerosols coming out of your mouth. This puts those around you at risk, according to a report in The Times of India.

So what the government is now saying is ditch the N-95 mask with a single valve. And there are more chances that your handkerchief or dupatta would work better. Point taken. We have only one question: Why did it wait for four months to draft that advisory?