Mask disclaimers and liability – a response to a Facebook commenter

Disposable surgical mask (Image Credit: FDA)
Some people like to point out that many disposable mask boxes now have disclaimers that say something along the lines of “not for medical use” or “does not work on viruses.” The reason for those disclaimers isn’t that the mask won’t reduce transmission, but rather because of corporate liability concerns. Here’s a comment on that I posted earlier today on Facebook.

I’ve removed the name of the person I’m responding to, but it is otherwise the same as my Facebook comment.

Let’s do a quick thought experiment here, but it’s one you can do at home for real.

Fake cough or sneeze on your hand. Feel the dampness? That dampness is water droplets that could be carrying the virus.

Now put on a medical-grade mask and repeat the experiment. Notice that you don’t feel much or any dampness?

Now put on a cloth (non-medical) mask and repeat the experiment. Notice that you also don’t feel much or any dampness?

Now put a dish between your hand and your mouth and do it again. Notice you still don’t feel any dampness?

The fact you much, much less (if any) dampness wearing a non-medical cloth mask or even with a clearly non-medical dish between your mouth and hand means that the mask is working. Maybe not as well as a medical grade mask would, but better than not wearing a mask at all.

And you know why the packaging says “not for medical use?” Because of liability and cost. If the manufacturer claims a mask is medical it has to be certified to medical standards and that costs money and exposes the company to lawsuits if the mask fails. But the exact same mask can be sold for a lot less with that language on it.

It’s like how electronics for the military cost an arm and a leg because it has to be built to stringent military specifications, but the same commercial-grade electronics could be $20 at your local Best Buy.

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