If you are a follower of this column, you know that I have always said, ten years to early is better than one day late. In the case of masks for the coronavirus right now, it may be one day late. I seem to have found the last good deal on them, and it emptied out just as I started the livestream, above.
Where most people get confused about masks is in understanding the difference in filtration levels for relative threats.
A virus is roughly 100-300 nanometers accross, which is .1 – .3 micrometers, or microns.
A surgical mask filters at about 5 microns. So that is not even in the ballpark, but hang in there so I can explain the whole thing. As you have seen, half of China right now is wearing surgical masks, and it’s for a reason.
An N95 mask filters at .3 microns, 95% of the time. So that’s in the ballpark at least, but still not any guarantee that the filtration of an N95 mask is smaller than the size of whatever virus you are trying to avoid.
A gas mask is a whole other thing. The media in the filters attract particulate, so it isn’t just filtration. Even a regular Russian GP-5 NBC filter will filter viruses, and even gasses. The Mira filters, which are now called CBRN, I have included in this week’s SHOT Digest, and they even remove carbon monoxide at this point.
Now, with all of that in mind, you have to apply common sense. I know this is the internet where common sense is almost forbidden, so bear with me.
Filtration levels are not relevant when what you need to protect against is someone sneezing on you.
It isn’t like there is a cloud of virus in the air. A globule of phlegm, or even a fine spray of it, is always going to be larger than 5 microns. The CDC has even suggested that a T-shirt mask is effective against the spread of a virus.
The important thing is to try not to be breathing in if someone sneezes on you. You can’t always control this of course, which is why a good fitting N95 mask never hurts, , but even if you breath in, the chances of a globule of spit coming through even a tshirt, never mind a surgical mask, are small.
Viruses need a host to live. Even in a ball of phlegm, they won’t last more than a short while, often minutes, and certainly no more than a couple of hours. So you generally need not worry about viruses just hanging out in the air.
When does particulate size matter the most? When there is a cloud of fine dust. When there has been an aerial dispersal of something like anthrax. When you need to drink water out of a river, and there might be a harmful contagion in the water.
And of course, if you have to travel outside after a nuclear accident or bomb, the beta radiation that will be falling certainly should be filtered. This is the biggest reason why gas masks are not a waste of money, or something strictly for halloween costumes, Comicon, and weed bongs.
Otherwise, just use common sense, and completely ignore the armchair internetards who will tell you over and over again that an N95 mask is worse than wearing nothing if it is not fitted properly. Do you know what fitted properly is? Pinch the nose!
Without a genuine seal, as in a butyl rubber gas mask, or a positive pressure system like a fireman’s mask, no mask is going to completely protect you from a cloud of anything, especially once you start exhaling and it gets wet. That’s why they make gas masks.
As you can tell from the video, I was hoping to find you guys a score of N95 masks. I caught 10 boxes of 10 masks on Ebay for about $2 a mask right before I made the livestream. Someone cleaned them out shortly after, probably for resale. Now they seem to be $20 each at least.
There are however, as I write this, some neoprene masks on Amazon that come with activated carbon filters. Even though they are about what you will pay for an N95 right now, they are probably more durable, and are somewhat washable even. In China they call these PM 2.5 (meaning that they filter pollution down to 2.5 microns) filters, and here they call them N99.9, meaning that they filter 99.9% of “dust,” whatever that means.
Again, we are talking about a virus that is going to be trapped in a glob of phlegm, or spray, all of which can be seen with the naked eye. Even 10 microns, the size of pollen allergens, can’t be seen with the human eye. Just get something to reliably cover your breathing ports, and try not to breath in if someone is sneezing or coughing near you. Common sense! It’s still allowed sometimes in the 21st century, even online.
On editing this article for Thursday, the 5th, nothing I said above has any exceptions for a viral outbreak. There is no way, without a specialized bioweapon, to aeriolize 100 to 200 nanometer virus by themselves. A virus cannot live without some kind of host, that will be larger than 5 microns.
But video coming out of Wuhan seems to say that there may be more to it than your average virus. The picture below is from of a video, one of several, that show some kind of Chinese officials blowing some kind of decontaminate into empty storefronts. If this is DDT, or some kind of other delousing agent or something, we are now talking about bugs, or at least a parasite. It does not make sense, and you should do everything you can to make sure that you can stay in the house for at least a few weeks if this thing hits hard here. Nobody is rushing the stores right now. Just get going.
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