If you can smell things while wearing a mask, does that mean the mask is not protecting you from viruses like COVID-19?
Answered by: Franklin Veaux,Viruses are cool.
Okay, so, until last week, I would never have imagined that anyone would seriously ask this question.
What happened last week?
Last week I saw an answer on Quora from someone who insisted that mask-wearing was pointless and stupid because “coronavirus is airborne, and I can smell perfume when I wear a mask,” so obviously a mask was useless.
Now this is a person who has scaled Mount Dunning-Kruger and, upon reaching the lofty pinnacle, proudly planted his flag to show all and sundry that he is the master of “unskilled and unaware of it.”
I’m sure he genuinely was proud. He used his brain! He figured it out! Coronavirus is airborne. Perfume is airborne. Masks don’t stop perfume. Therefore, masks don’t stop coronavirus. It’s logic! he saw right through the Democrat hoax! He outsmarted the libs! OWN THE LIBS! OWN THE LIBS! BOOYAH! OWN THE LIBS!
Thing is, I’m sure if you asked this rather bright fellow, so smug in his self-assured position as King of Mount Dunning-Kruger, how big a virus is, or how big a perfume molecule is, he probably couldn’t tell you. They’re both small, right? And airborne!
The key to resolving this conundrum is to understand that not everything that travels through the air is the same size.
Odor molecules are just that… molecules. Many of them are made of only a few atoms. Viruses are millions of times bigger. I don’t mean “millions” as in “way bigger,” I mean literal millions. A viral coat alone on a small virus is more than 4 million atoms.
To put that into terms you can visualize:
If a molecule of ammonia, which you can definitely smell, were this big:
Then how big do you think a coronavirus would be?
The size of a house? The size of a football stadium? The size of the Empire State Building?
The coronavirus would be this big:
That beachball will fit through spaces the planet Earth will not.
A mask that will block viruses will still let smells through.
[Edit] A couple of eagle-eyed readers have pointed out in the comments that I have confused units of linear distance and volume. A better comparison is this: