The Science Behind Face Masks

Contributor: Jay Gregorio. Lesson ID: 13414

It has always been necessary to cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough. More than good manners, it is for the health and safety of people around you. This lesson explores the science behind masks!

categories

Life Science, Practical Life Skills

subject
Science
learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Beaver
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8), High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

Audio:

Face Masks? Really?

people wearing face masks

If you feel uncomfortable wearing a face mask when you leave your home, you are not alone!

  • Why do people need to wear face masks, anyway?

Let's dig a little deeper into the facts behind wearing a face mask. After all, science is all about the facts!

Sneeze Away!

You cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough. You know it is more than just good manners. It also helps keep those around you safe from your germs.

  • Did you know that the droplets of your sneeze can travel as far as 27 feet, or 9 yards?

This means that when you sneeze in front of another person with your mouth uncovered, millions of droplets will land all over the person's body. Now, if you have a cold when you sneeze, every single droplet you release will carry those germs.

How Contagious Is A Single Sneeze? from Science Insider:

Wearing of protective coverings such as face shields, face masks, and gloves can prevent direct contact with microorganisms that live on surfaces or floating in the air.

While all these things are equally important, this lesson will focus on the face mask.

  • How does a face mask protect you?
  • How are they made?
  • How should you wear them?

Medical Masks and Fabric Masks

There are many types of face masks in the market nowadays, but the most common are medical masks and fabric masks. They are both loose-fitting masks that cover the nose and mouth and have ear loops or ties or bands at the back of the head.

To better understand how different types of masks help prevent the spread of germs, watch High speed camera captures how different types of face masks work from UNSW:

Layers of Fabric Masks

The World Health Organization (WHO) has set guidelines on the prevention of virus spread through masking.

It is important to remember that viruses and other germs are all around us and can be airborne. While a face mask still has gaps for these particles to slip through, they greatly reduce the risk of direct contact.

The materials used to make fabric masks will increase their effectiveness. That's why you need to look at the layers of fabric masks!

Ideally, they should contain the following three layers:

  • The outer layer is the part of the mask that should be hydrophobic, which means that it will repel droplets and moisture.
  • The inner layer is in direct contact with your mouth so it should be a hydrophilic material, which means it will absorb the droplets from your exhaled breath.
  • The middle later is an insert between the outer and inner layers and will act as a filter. Ideally, it should be made of polypropylene fabric.

Watch The three-layer fabric mask from the World Health Organization (WHO):

Wearing a Face Mask Properly

There are strategies you can take to make sure you are wearing your face mask properly as well as steps to follow before or after wearing them!

  1. Wash your hands with soap and water before wearing your mask.
  2. Hold the mask through the ties or bands only.
  3. The mask should cover your nose, mouth, and chin.
  4. Medical masks are disposable and are not meant to be used multiple times.
  5. Fabric masks should be washed properly after a long period of use.
  6. To store fabric masks, you can use a seal-able plastic bag so that the outer and the inner layers do not touch any dirty surface.

For a complete guide on how to wear fabric masks safely, watch How to wear a fabric mask safely from World Health Organization (WHO):

Do We Really Need Masks?

In 2020, possible exposure to Covid-19 is a constant concern.

Those in the medical profession face a much higher risk of exposure. However, even if you are not at a high risk for the illness, those around you very well may be.

Sometimes, wearing a mask is the best way to keep others from getting sick.

While wearing a mask can have drawbacks - such as feeling strange, fogging up your glasses, causing acne, or limiting your ability to express yourself - it is important to weigh those against the benefits and make the best decision for you and those around you.

Before moving on to the Got It? section, watch this April 2020 Vox video on What face masks actually do against coronavirus:

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