March 8, 2021

First with the Alderney News

Face coverings – are you serious?

3 min read

Image Credit: Florida Atlantic University’s College of Engineering and Computer Science

As from Saturday 13th February 2021, it is a legal requirement that face coverings must be worn in certain specific indoor public spaces and on all public transport in the Bailiwick. Failure to do so could result in a Fixed Penalty of £100.

A list of those indoor public spaces where one must wear a face covering can be found on the States of Guernsey COVID-19 website. Although not a legal requirement, people are strongly advised to wear a face covering when exercising or undertaking other recreational activities, particularly in urbanised areas or in areas where other people are partaking recreational activities.

In the context of the current coronavirus outbreak, a face covering is something which safely covers the nose and mouth and can include a scarf, bandana, or hand-made cloth covering, although these must fit securely round the side of the face. The primary purpose of face coverings is to protect others, not the wearer, against the spread of infection by covering the nose and mouth – the main confirmed sources of transmission of virus that causes coronavirus infection (COVID-19).

While your author is all for protecting others, I would like to feel that a face covering will afford me some degree of protection, especially having seen the kind of unsuitable badly fitting face coverings being worn by some individuals when doing their shopping.

So, how effective are scarves, bandanas, and hand-made cloth coverings?

According to a new study from Oxford’s Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science, cloth face coverings, even homemade masks made of the correct material, are effective in reducing the spread of COVID-19 – for both the wearer and those around them. Indeed, Professor Melinda Mills, Director of the Leverhulme Centre and author of the study, claims:

“The general public does not need to wear surgical masks or respirators. We find that masks made from high quality material such as high-grade cotton, multiple layers and particularly hybrid constructions are effective. For instance, combining cotton and silk or flannel provide over 95% filtration, so wearing a mask can protect others.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation (WHO) currently recommends face coverings which meet the European FFP2 standard, or greater. In support of this, the WHO cites studies which show the filtration systems of FFP2 masks is around 95 per cent effective. Based on this advice, countries such as Austria and Germany have made the wearing of FFP2 face coverings a requirement on public transport. The only problem with FFP2 masks is the cost – around £2-3 each for a disposable mask.

Finally, it is worth taking a look at face coverings treated with antiviral and antibacterial coatings, such as HeiQ Viroblock. Although around £15 each, they are washable 30 times at 40C. According to the Australian ‘Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity’, HeiQ’s Viroblock NPJ03 textile technology is effective against SARS-COV-2 with a 99.99% reduction in terms of the virus which causes COVID-19.

Featured Image: In order to illustrate the effectiveness of different kinds of face coverings, researchers from Florida Atlantic University’s College of Engineering and Computer Science conducted a series of tests using a mannequin, affectionately known as ‘Puff’, designed to emulate normal breathing, coughing, and sneezing. When the mannequin was not fitted with a mask, it projected respiratory droplets, the primary means of transmission for COVID-19, much farther than the 2-metre distancing guidelines currently recommended by the States of Guernsey. Moreover, the tracer droplets remained suspended mid-air for up to three minutes in the quiescent environment.

The object of the research was to highlight the rationale behind social-distancing guidelines and recommendations for using face coverings. Without a mask, respiratory droplets travelled up to four metres. With a bandana, the distance reduced to just over a metre. With a folded cotton handkerchief, the distance the droplets travelled dropped to under half a metre. With cone-style masks, droplets travelled around 20 centimetres.

However, with with a stitched quilted cotton mask, they travelled just five centimetres or two inches – QED.


9 thoughts on “Face coverings – are you serious?

  1. I do not disagree with you. However, t his article was not about the pros and cons of face coverings. On the contrary, the purpose of the article was to provide AY News readers with a simple guide to to the effectiveness of readily available face coverings bearing in mind that the States of Guernsey have currently mandated their use in certain circumstances.

  2. At last. Well done Stuart Clark for pointing to the incontrovertible evidence that masks, surgical or otherwise, bandannas, balaclavas or handkerchiefs etc. have zero effect against any virus. Full stop. The analogy of a mosquito flying through a chain link fence is often used. Also as now 93 clinical trials of hydroxychloroquine with zinc and erythromycin are proven to defeat C19, we have had a cure on hand for more than a year. So to paraphrase FDR, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

  3. Perhaps it would help if we bear in mind that that SARS CoV-2 transmits in two forms: droplets and aerosols.

    For non-surgical face coverings, the mosquito / fence analogy might apply to aerosols, but the analogy for droplets is more tennis ball / tennis net. Your risk of developing the dangerous form of Covid 19 is strongly influenced by the ‘infective load’: The quantity you breathe in on your first encounter with the virus. The larger is it, the more likely it will be that the virus will overwhelm your immune system. If you contract a small load, and it triggers a strong immune response, you will stand a better chance of batting away larger doses in future – though this is not certain by any means. Vaccines help a lot, but they are not 100% reliable, so it makes sense to stop the tennis balls even if you can’t stop the mosquitos.

    If you are sufficiently distant and/or outdoors, the mosquitos are much less likely to sting you badly enough to cause a major problem. If you have a surgical mask you’d hope to defer the mosquitos, and if you have full medical PPE you should keep them out. So the factors are; how much viral load is being shed in your direction (how many infected people close by), how the air is moving (indoors / outdoors / breezy conditions), what barriers you have in place (cloth, mask or PPE), as well as your own immune response, and what treatments at what stages. Some viruses make you very sick from a very small infective load, but Covid usually requires a largish one, though the picture is complex, and new variants are more infectious, though I’m not clear myself where this impacts in the chain above.

    I’ll not share the Wikipedia entry for the website that Stuart linked to because I’ve already had my knuckles rapped for citing bad sources (fair cop), but I should mention that the tone of page is not as well-supported by the articles it cites as I’d personally prefer.

    The new treatments Ray mentions are hugely encouraging, and they can defeat Covid 19, but not reliably, so we would be wise to avoid infection in the first place, not least because of long covid, impact on the vulnerable, impact on health services, and above all risk of mutations – because emerging science suggests that some mutations may be a direct result of hospital treatment attempts, which have merely trained the virus how best to mutate to avoid them.

    As someone who has lived since I was last on the island in an urban covid hotspot, shielding a vulnerable young mum, I would agree that fear is very a unhelpful and unnecessary response. But deep and serious respect for this pesky particle is absolutely called for, and at this pivotal moment in Alderney’s relationship with covid I’d urge my friends to adopt a cautiously optimistic outlook – with a very strong emphasis on the caution.

    And also please to wear the best mask you can get your hands on, properly, and slightly more often than you think is strictly necessary. Thankfully theere is no evidence of community seeding, and it’s currently pretty unlikely to be happening so you can breathe easy (ish), but you still remain only one slip away from where we are – and we need you to please stay healthy and happy. We’ve had the bags packs buy the front door for a full 12 months, and we urgently need to put them on a Dornier!

    1. Research is essential as is reading. It just seems that people can’t be bothered to do it. Please actually read the article Mr Bliss may not like the studies mentioned here as he says, but for example the Danish clinical study of April 2020 involves 6000 people, half with and half without masks to find no statistical difference between the two groups of C19 infection. The video shows that masks do nothing to prevent in/exhalation of virus particles. Look at the 12 graphs that clearly show increases in C19 infection rates after mandatory mask wearing was required in 12 different countries. However if anyone can find me a clinical study showing that a face mask will stop a virus particle then please do so because during my research I cannot find one.

      Equally, although Mr Bliss maintains that hydroxychloriquine (HCQ) is unreliable perhaps some research on his part will uncover 190+ clinical and empirical studies proving the exact opposite. The derogatory Lancet and the New England Medical Journal papers espoused by the BBC, CNN and many other mainstream outlets were both withdrawn with apologies from the authors for including misleading information citing the use of HCQ being dangerous, possibly deadly despite it being in circulation since 1952 to fight lupus, arthritis and malaria. None of the mainstream media corrected this reversal. Why?

      So as we have an effective cure in HCQ, why is the vaccination programme going ahead? Some figures from the USA may assist with an answer and perhaps an investigative journalist such as Mr Earl could uncover the local costings. A five day course of HCQ plus zinc and erythromycin costs $18. The vaccine comes in at a measly $900, equals only 50 times greater. So as always, follow the money.

  4. V2: Ray is partially correct in some of what he says. Perhaps I should start by pointing out that the Swiss Research page is a libertarian political blog, probably German not Swiss, which is notorious for promoting pseudoscience.

    I did read it along with the papers to which it links, which are mostly legitimate – so obviously I do ‘like’ them. It is the inferences in the blog that are suspect – not necessarily wrong, but just not properly justified by the science cited. For example, the first article is about flu, not covid, and there are crucial differences (see below re infective dose – but also around asymptomatic transmission). The second admits “Inconclusive results, missing data, variable adherence, patient-reported findings on home tests, no blinding, and no assessment of whether masks could decrease disease transmission from mask wearers to others” and “health measures did not reduce the SARS-CoV-2 infection rate among wearers by more than 50% in a community with modest infection rates, some degree of social distancing, and uncommon general mask use. The data were compatible with lesser degrees of self-protection.” In other words, masks may almost halve the risk. The third is a straw man – and so it goes on. Many of the assertions on the page are not fully supported by the articles cited – the most common ‘error’ being to assume the general from the specific.
    The video compares virus aerosols with smoke. This looks like deliberate misinformation to me. I will post again below the crucial point that it is droplets that matter most in viral transmission, not aerosols, and why; which the person who made that video should surely have known. I did explain about droplets and aerosols above, but perhaps Ray is not fully aware of the crucial import of infective load? It may be huge from droplets and relatively small from aerosols, with intermediate risks in scale from intermediate sizes between the two extremes. It’s the big blobs we need to try to catch. And this is the reason masks are being advocated. It’s basic long-established science, not incompetence by the medical community, or some plot to control people or make money.
    Also, as I pointed out elsewhere, the graphs on the Swiss Research page are (deliberately?) misleading. They imply causation without offering sufficient evidence. They would need to show examples / projections of what might / would have happened if masks had not been introduced, or introduced at different points in the pandemic. And we would also need to drill down into issues such as compliance, types of mask, size of space, proximity, air flow and so on. There are way too many factors at play for the graphs to prove what they seem to be intended to prove.
    I did not say that HCQ was unreliable, I said it could not reliably treat covid 19, because it can’t. There is indeed plenty of evidence for its efficiency and value against various autoimmune conditions, and indeed some of the autoimmune effects of covid 19, especially if administered early on, when the infective load has been relatively small. But it’s not a cure that can justify not taking precautions. If it was, we’d not be seeing any deaths or long covid disability. Ray chooses to think there is a financially-based conspiracy. This is tempting in its simplicity, but as with all such theories, it does not stand up to scrutiny when you consider the mechanics that would be required for its perpetration, and the numbers of medics who would have to be complicit.
    Here again is my post from Facebook, which includes some other points of relevance:
    For, again, the sake of balance (because use of masks could – if an outbreak does emerge – become a pivotal matter in a small, isolated community like Alderney) this ‘Danish Study’ [which was cited in support of an anti-mask stance] is not at all as claimed. The BMJ explains it thus: “The trial is inconclusive rather than negative, and it points to a likely benefit of mask wearing to the wearer. It did not examine the wider potential benefit of reduced spread of infection to others, and this even in a population where mask wearing isn’t mandatory and prevalence of infection is low.”
    Fauci [who had been traduced for changing his advice on masks] was basing his opinion (a year ago) on previously published science (relating to other pathogens, not covid), and in a context of a severe shortage of PPE – with front line staff needing all the masks that could be found. As data started to come in and the PPE situation improved, Fauci, like any good scientist, revised his opinion. And for this he is respected by the expert community.…/uk-factcheck-fauci-outdated…
    The WHO position changed for similar reasons.
    The key issue here is not the physics of exhalation / expellation of large droplets (most of which are trapped by basic cloth masks or even hankies or your elbow) and teeny aerosols (which are only trapped by high spec masks and can travel much further, but which quickly dissipate and evaporate in open conditions, and, importantly, also only contain a comparatively tiny dose of viral particles), or the efficiency of the various barriers that might or might not trap each size of transmitter. This is all basic, long-established physics.
    The critical issue is emerging science on the size of covid 19’s specific ‘infective load’ (your crucial first encounter with the virus) and how much is required to cause a serious, rather than a mild and possibly asymptomatic infection (and please know that covid has been proven again and again to transfer both asymptomatically and presymptomatically – the WHO position is not as has been claimed).…/we-don-t-actually-have-that…
    The infective dose for the mild form of covid 19 is thought to be between 100 and 300 viral particles. There is a lot more I could mansplain about this, but to save boring you all witless I will simply say that simple cloth masks will trap many if not all larger droplets. And it’s larger droplets delivering between a million and a hundred million viruses per ml that are most likely to cause covid’s notorious massive innate immune response, which diverts the immune system into survival mode, and makes it struggle to control the virus long enough for immunity to kick-in – leading to considerable inflammation and a cytokine storm. If you only receive a small dose, from a few random aerosols that escaped someone’s mask, it might, if you are lucky, merely trigger a healthy immune response which will not only stop you developing the serious form of the disease, but may even ward off larger future infections.
    Elsewhere [here], it’s been said that cloth masks trap a viral particle as well as a chain link fence traps a mosquito. This is true, except that viruses are not like pollen – they only exist inside liquid, i.e. in aerosols and droplets expelled from the nose or mouth.
    Cloth masks trap droplets like a tennis net stops a tennis ball – not perfectly, but given that, as explained above, the prognosis depends on quantity not mere contact, a cloth mask could literally make the difference between life and death. And full PPE traps aerosols like muslin traps a mosquito.…/
    This is what those anti-mask blogs fail to explain – (so I guess if you didn’t know about it then official advice might seem a bit dodgy).

  5. Sorry – the WHO rebuttal re asymptomatic transmission seems to have got truncated. Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead on the COVID-19 pandemic, has been frequently misquoted on Alderney facebook pages, to imply she said the opposite of what she actually said about presymptomatic transmission:

  6. Sorry again: I’ve just been told that the last link has also misdirected – to something about bleach! (I need to remember to double check links when copying from Facebook posts, as they seem to be truncated.

    This is the link to expert reaction to questions about COVID-19 and viral load that I paraphrased:

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