Does Wearing a Face Mask Really Help Protect Against Coronavirus and Other Illnesses?

Popartinc/iStock via Getty Images
Popartinc/iStock via Getty Images

This story has been updated.

As public health officials continue to monitor the spread of the new coronavirus, Americans have been faced with some fundamental changes to their daily life. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is now advising people to use a cloth face covering whenever social distancing isn't possible. Health care workers and others who are at higher risk of contracting the illness should opt for N95 masks or surgical masks.

All afford different levels of protection. William Schaffner, M.D., an infectious-disease specialist at Vanderbilt University, told Live Science that some masks can offer the wearer an effective barrier against viral particles and other airborne pathogens—but not all masks are equal, and those that do a sound job are not terribly comfortable. Here are the pros and cons of each.

Thin surgical masks don't offer much in the way of protection for the wearer, because they're meant to keep the wearer from spreading pathogens to others through exhaled droplets. Originally, they were designed to prevent health care professionals from spreading germs to patients during surgical procedures. The masks are not designed to filter small airborne particles, and because they fit only loosely around the nose and mouth, it’s possible for contaminants to enter and exit through the sides.

Is it better than nothing? Yes. But you wear it to protect others, not yourself.

A woman wearing a surgical mask is pictured
Martin Barraud/iStock via Getty Images

For a more effective barrier, N95 respirators or better are recommended. These masks are more substantial and can effectively filter viral particles. The “N95” refers to the fact that these types of masks have been proven to block at least 95 percent of particles as small as 0.3 microns in size.

N95 respirators are pictured
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But what makes them effective is what also makes them unpleasant to wear. Because you’re breathing through thick material, it can become difficult to tolerate for extended periods, especially if you have a health condition that already makes breathing a challenge. And if the mask isn’t properly fitted to create a seal around the face, you might still be exposed to pathogens. This is particularly true of people with beards, since facial hair interferes with the mask’s ability to create a secure fit.

Because these types of medical-grade masks are in short supply, health experts suggest a cloth face covering be substituted for most people. The main objective of these masks is not necessarily to protect the wearer from being infected. Instead, the covering can reduce the chances for an infected person to spread the virus by limiting respiratory droplets distributed in the air. Even people who do not feel ill should wear the masks, because it's possible to be asymptomatic and still be able to spread the virus.

A cloth face mask is pictured
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The CDC recommends cloth masks for those 2 years of age and over. If you have respiratory issues that make breathing difficult, you should consult with a physician before donning any kind of mask.

You should also be mindful of the proper way to place or remove any kind of mask. Be sure to wash your hands before touching the mask, then secure it around your ears and under your chin. Avoid touching your face or the mask while out in public. When you return home, wash your hands again before taking it off by using the ties or strings. Launder cloth masks before wearing them again.

Whether it’s the coronavirus, the flu, or any other kind of infectious germ, the best defense is to wash your hands, avoid touching your face, and avoid contact with people who are ill if possible.

[h/t Live Science]

Wayfair’s Fourth of July Clearance Sale Takes Up to 60 Percent Off Grills and Outdoor Furniture

Wayfair/Weber
Wayfair/Weber

This Fourth of July, Wayfair is making sure you can turn your backyard into an oasis while keeping your bank account intact with a clearance sale that features savings of up to 60 percent on essentials like chairs, hammocks, games, and grills. Take a look at some of the highlights below.

Outdoor Furniture

Brisbane bench from Wayfair
Brisbane/Wayfair

- Jericho 9-Foot Market Umbrella $92 (Save 15 percent)
- Woodstock Patio Chairs (Set of Two) $310 (Save 54 percent)
- Brisbane Wooden Storage Bench $243 (Save 62 percent)
- Kordell Nine-Piece Rattan Sectional Seating Group with Cushions $1800 (Save 27 percent)
- Nelsonville 12-Piece Multiple Chairs Seating Group $1860 (Save 56 percent)
- Collingswood Three-Piece Seating Group with Cushions $410 (Save 33 percent)

Grills and Accessories

Dyna-Glo electric smoker.
Dyna-Glo/Wayfair

- Spirit® II E-310 Gas Grill $479 (Save 17 percent)
- Portable Three-Burner Propane Gas Grill $104 (Save 20 percent)
- Digital Bluetooth Electric Smoker $224 (Save 25 percent)
- Cuisinart Grilling Tool Set $38 (Save 5 percent)

Outdoor games

American flag cornhole game.
GoSports

- American Flag Cornhole Board $57 (Save 19 percent)
- Giant Four in a Row Game $30 (Save 6 percent)
- Giant Jenga Game $119 (Save 30 percent)

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How the Scientist Who Invented Ibuprofen Accidentally Discovered It Was Great for Hangovers

This man had too many dry martinis at a business lunch.
This man had too many dry martinis at a business lunch.
George Marks/Retrofile/Getty Images

When British pharmacologist Stewart Adams and his colleague John Nicholson began tinkering with various drug compounds in the 1950s, they were hoping to come up with a cure for rheumatoid arthritis—something with the anti-inflammatory effects of aspirin, but without the risk of allergic reaction or internal bleeding.

Though they never exactly cured rheumatoid arthritis, they did succeed in developing a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) that greatly reduced pain of all kinds. In 1966, they patented their creation, which was first known as 2-(4-isobutylphenyl) propionic acid and later renamed ibuprofen. While originally approved as a prescription drug in the UK, it soon became clear ibuprofen was safer and more effective than other pain relievers. It eventually hit the market as an over-the-counter medication.

During that time, Adams conducted one last impromptu experiment with the drug, which took place far outside the lab and involved only a single participant: himself.

In 1971, Adams arrived in Moscow to speak at a pharmacology conference and spent the night before his scheduled appearance tossing back shots of vodka at a reception with the other attendees. When he awoke the next morning, he was greeted with a hammering headache. So, as Smithsonian.com reports, Adams tossed back 600 milligrams of ibuprofen.

“That was testing the drug in anger, if you like,” Adams told The Telegraph in 2007. “But I hoped it really could work magic.”

As anyone who has ever been in that situation can probably predict, the ibuprofen did work magic on Adams’s hangover. After that, according to The Washington Post, the pharmaceutical company Adams worked for began promoting the drug as a general painkiller, and people started to stumble upon its use as a miracle hangover cure.

“It's funny now,” Adams told The Telegraph. “But over the years so many people have told me that ibuprofen really works for them, and did I know it was so good for hangovers? Of course, I had to admit I did.”

[h/t Smithsonian.com]