Lana Del Rey was met with heavy backlash over the weekend when she shared a series of photos and videos on Instagram, attending a book signing in Los Angeles and greeting a large crowd of fans while wearing what appeared to be a mesh, netted mask. Critics called out the star for putting fans at risk with a sheer mask that does not protect others from coronavirus exposure — but is there any way the face covering could be effective?
To figure out how safe Del Rey’s mask is (or isn’t), Billboard chatted with Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, a medical educator at the University of California, San Francisco, who specializes in treating infectious diseases but is not directly familiar with the specific mask the singer/songwriter wore over the weekend. “I am not very confident that it would prevent any spread of COVID,” he said, adding, “It looks interesting, but you don’t need to be a smart virus to get through that mesh. You could be the dumbest virus and it would be easy to get through that mesh.”
Chin-Hong compared Del Rey to Lady Gaga, who “is still able to be fashionable and have an effective mask”; the Chromatica star sported a number of stylish face coverings at the 2020 MTV Video Music Awards in August, all of which effectively shielded her mouth and nose without sacrificing the eye-catching flair that is characteristically Gaga.
“The holes are so big in the mesh that you might as well be wearing nothing,” Chin-Hong continued of Del Rey’s blingy mask. “I can draw a mask on my face with a magic marker and it would have the same efficiency as a mesh mask.”
While it appeared that Del Rey wore only the mesh mask during the book signing, her defenders wondered if she might have a clear protective layer under the bling that went undetected in her Instagram pics. Chin-Hong is aware of one FDA-approved option — the ClearMask — for those needing to read lips or see others’ facial expressions, but “The clear part is just around the mouth, because plastic blocks the virus,” he explained, “so you can still breathe through fabric from the nose.”
It’s clear that mesh masks alone don’t work in preventing the spread of coronavirus, so what does? “There’s a hierarchy of masks,” Chin-Hong said. “The Tesla of masks is the N95, then you get the surgical masks that we use in the hospital, then you get the cloth coverings that people wear normally and on the streets, then you have the neck gaiters that you can buy from North Face.”
While the N95 masks are at the top of the list, the expert said they are not necessary in everyday life, just in medical and high-risk situations. “For most people, wearing a regular cloth mask is good enough,” he said.
Besides Del Rey’s mesh mask, Chin-Hong also does not recommend masks with filtered valves. “They’re meant to prevent the wearer from getting something because the filter is one-way, so you breathe in one way and it filters it, but when you breathe out, it doesn’t filter it,” he explained. “So if you have COVID and wore it, you would be spreading COVID to everyone you thought you would be protecting, so that’s a scary mask.”
However, if you see someone wearing an ineffective face covering, Chin-Hong does not believe “mask shaming” is the way to change behavior.
“Shaming is the worst thing you can do, because it makes somebody defensive,” he said. “In fact, if somebody said, ‘Hey, Lana, I wonder why you wore that mesh mask’ — and said it in a nice, kind, curious way — she might say, ‘Oh, I didn’t really know. You’re right, maybe this isn’t the best mask.’ Then Lana Del Rey could be the next Lady Gaga and go out there and promote masks.”