A Cork scientist who admits that he was sceptical about the use of face coverings amongst the public at the beginning of the Covid-19 outbreak is now urging the public to always carry a DIY facemask, and says "in the absence of vaccination, mask the nation".
Professor Roy Sleator, a biologist at the Cork Institute of Technology (CIT) said that as a scientist, he is naturally sceptical, but as the science around the use of masks has changed, so has his view on the issue.
“I am naturally sceptical and this scepticism initially extended to the use of masks in the fight against Covid-19. My main concerns focused on our dwindling supply of PPE – recommending that the general population wear masks, I felt, would put undue pressure on already stretched medical supply chains. Secondly, masks have little benefit if not properly worn.
“However, as the science evolved, the role that masks can potentially play in stopping the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, became more and more obvious to me,” he said.
Now Professor Sleator is encouraging the public to adopt the practice of carrying and wearing a DIY mask.
“I would advise that everyone carry a mask at all times and wear it when needed, like having a pair of sunglasses for when the sun comes out,” he said.
Together with CIT physicists Niall Smith, Alan Giltinan and Steven Darby, Professor Sleator recently shared his views on how DIY face masks will likely play a role in stemming the spread of SARS-CoV-2 in the journal Future Microbiology.
They highlighted how several studies have shown that masks made from common household materials such as t-shirts and pillowcases are “at least partially effective in blocking viral spread".
Professor Sleator and his colleagues have secured funding from Science Foundation Ireland to look at which materials are best for DIY mask fabrication using instrumentation normally used to map stars in the galaxy.
"We are using instrumentation normally used to map stars in the galaxy to instead identify and quantify droplet spread during normal speech and coughing," he said.
This work is currently ongoing.
While the CIT biologist believes that everyone should carry and wear a mask as appropriate, he cautioned that masks will only work in combination with other measures.
“It is important to remember that masks are not a panacea; they should be appropriately donned and washed, if reusable. Also, masks are not a substitute for proper hand hygiene and social distancing, but when used in combination with these are an important weapon in our fight against Covid-19 -a bit like sunglasses together with sunscreen and a hat,” he said.