Leaving the house panic used to involve a checklist of all essential items, phone, keys and wallet typically, but now one of the most essential items is our face coverings.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) has become high in demand for private businesses, public sector organisations and even the individual person, wearing a mask is now a part of our daily routine and is a simple and easy solution to preventing the spread of infection and viruses.
For the majority of the general public wearing face masks is an essential requirement when entering environments where social distancing is harder. This has resulted in a wide variety of face masks and coverings being manufactured, from surgical masks to cloth face coverings.
High street retailers are designing fashionable cloth masks and cotton masks, full customer-contact business such as hairdressers and barbers are employing face shields and even individuals with health restrictions are wearing PPE in some suitable way. With so many types of masks available, do you know which is the most preventative? What a face covering does? Or when it is appropriate to wear certain face coverings?
How do face coverings work?
According to WHO (2020), Coronavirus is primarily spread via respiratory droplets in the air from coughs or sneezes. A face mask works by blocking these droplets from entering the air, as well as blocking other smaller particles called aerosols that can also pass the virus, these occur when people talk or exhale.
This is why the most important initial factor in effectively wearing a face mask is ensuring that it fits comfortably to your face and covers both the mouth and nose.
TIP: A trick to check that your face mask is serving its duty is to try and blow out a candle whilst wearing your mask, a good mask should prevent you from extinguishing the flame and will be a sufficient barrier.
Choosing the right type of masks
It comes as no shock that there are some materials that are better at filtering, there are limits on where certain masks can be worn as well as recommended coverings that offer the most benefits both in a healthcare setting and for the general public. Here's our overview:
Surgical masks, also known as fluid resistant surgical masks (FRSM) are one of the most popular types of masks we've seen during the pandemic.
Material: Typically a combination of papers and plastics
Benefit: Designed specifically to block large particles/droplets, these masks are FDA approved and can ensure a clean room is not contaminated by viruses, because the mask can be easily disposed of after a single-use avoiding any further contamination. They are especially effective in protecting those around you if you are a carrier of the virus.
Most suitable for: This type of mask is ideal to be worn in hospitals, by doctors and other healthcare workers, however they can be used by the general public too.
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There are multiple variations of cloth masks at present and some are more effective than others, cloth masks that are made up of more than two layers, also known as a hybrid mask, are another popular variation of face covering.
Material: Essential that they are made from multiple layers of tightly woven cloth such as cotton
Benefit: The multiple layers in this mask increase the effectiveness of blocking small aerosol particles as well as large droplets. The thicker the hybrid mask the greater the protective barrier they are. These are reusable and can be machine washed for continuous prevention against bacteria and viruses.
Most suitable for: This type of mask is ideal to be worn by the general public in both indoor and outdoor settings and you can make your own at home.
Here's a helpful guide to making your own mask.
The N95 mask is one that you will only come across in a healthcare setting. Anyone undergoing the wear of this mask will have taken a detailed test to ensure that the mask is fitted exactly and specifically to the wearer.
Material: Synthetic plastic fibres
Benefit: They are 99.9% effective at blocking large droplets as well as 95% effective at filtering small aerosols, which is considerably higher than the surgical mask this is why their use is restricted to only healthcare and first response situations.
Most suitable for: Medical professionals dealing directly with patients.
Single-layer masks are what we commonly see on the high street and in other retailers.
Material: They are typically made from one individual layer of cotton or silk, but can be made of other fabrics too.
Benefit: The resources to manufacture these masks are not scarce, therefore they are easy to access, especially if you find yourself in a circumstance where you've lost or forgotten your mask. They still offer some protection against large droplets but the more layers of fabric increases the protection. Using a scarf and/or bandana offers the same level of protection and single layer masks and are therefore only expected to be used in cases where there are no other options.
Most suitable for: Can be worn by anyone but only in the restricted environments, primarily outdoors.
It's important to note that there are also face masks with a built-in valve or filtering featuring that is used to help the wearer to breathe. However in doing so this also dramatically reduces the effectiveness of the prevention of spread of COVID-19 by creating an air leak in the mask.
Most suitable for: This mask should be avoided for the purpose of preventing infection and virus spread.
There are a number of other restrictions and guidance in place to ensure the safety of all during the pandemic. Here are some further helpful links to ensure you're doing everything you can to protect those in your environment: