Uncomfortable, but unavoidable
Hearing people complain about masks, I was struck by an epiphany; I had heard it all before. Only, not in the context of masks, but in the context of sanitary napkins.
A mask is actually a lot like a sanitary napkin. It is uncomfortable. You don’t like it. You long for the day when you no longer have to wear it. Yet, you have no choice but to wear it.
But that’s not where the similarities end; there is more.
You cannot wear a sanitary napkin and forget about it. You have to replace it either when it gets saturated, or after 6 to 8 hours. It is no different with masks. If you are wearing a mask for the entire day, you need to change it after a few hours, or risk contamination from the pathogens that might have stuck to the outer surface of the mask. As in the case of a sanitary napkin, after removing the mask, you have to dispose it responsibly and wash your hands before putting on the new mask.
Neither a sanitary napkin nor a mask offers 100% protection. On days of heavy discharge, sanitary napkins sometimes leak. That doesn’t mean you stop using them; you find the one best suited for your need, sometimes more than one depending on the estimated flow.
It is no different with masks. A plain cloth mask will do if you are taking your dog for a walk in the morning, but if you are going to be in a closed environment where it will be difficult to maintain sufficient physical distancing, you would be better off with a N-95. A regular surgical mask will be sufficient for ‘regular use’.
[In the initial days of the pandemic, when surgical masks were in short supply, people were discouraged from wearing them, but that restriction no longer applies since production has been ramped up.]
Disposable masks and disposable sanitary napkins both add to the landfill unless incinerated.
There is no getting away from the fact that disposables end up polluting the environment. The good thing, however, is that if you have only worn it for an hour or so, you can reuse a disposable mask by sterilizing it in sunlight or with a solution of peroxide.
Cloth masks too can provide upto 95% protection. You have to choose a triple layer mask made of tightly woven fabric. Loose weaves don’t offer sufficient protection but even they are better than nothing.
You don’t keep touching the sanitary napkin, do you? You have to be similarly careful with a mask. If you have to take the mask off, you have to make sure it doesn’t touch a surface which has potentially come in contact with a pathogen. If you place mask on a cash counter, or hang it up in a public washroom, for instance, you risk picking up the pathogens the person before you has generously left behind.
Menustrual cups and tampoons can replace a sanitary napkin.
Unfortunately, there is nothing that can replace a mask, except another mask.
However, unlike in case of sanitary napkins, you don’t have to wear a mask. You can choose to stay indoors, not have people over, and have someone else answer the doorbell. If you can’t do that, you would need to wear a mask.
There is one other difference. Sanitary napkins are white and boring. Masks can come in all colours and designs, and you can pick them to match your mood and your outfit. Just make sure that the mask covers your nose and mouth completely, it fits properly without leaving air gaps, and there are no embellishments except on the chin or cheek.
Mask up. Save lives.