Covid 19 has transformed the world around us in such a short space of time, that we are still bumping into new consequences and tripping over false-assumptions as we try to get back to normal, whatever that turns out to be.
Facemasks may become part of the new norm, together with face-shields, hand sanitisers and zoom parties. Earlier this year, facemasks were the exception, routinely worn only by scuba divers and a few wary travellers on long-haul flights.
The reality now is that everyone seems to have an opinion on when and where masks should be worn, how they should be worn, which face masks are best and most importantly, who should be wearing them. Opinions seem to vary by country, region and exposure to Facebook.
It’s what Surgeons wear!
One of my favourite mask ‘pieces of wisdom’ I encountered recently was, “I need a FPP3 mask when I go out shopping, it’s what surgeons wear!”
The immediate problem with this is that if we all wore what surgeons wear, when we go out shopping, there would be an immediate national shortage of crocs, sweatpants and blue/grey scrubs … and surgical grade respirator masks. While the UK would look like a country filled with surgeons nipping out for a quick shop in between operations, I’m not sure it’s a good look – outside of an operating theatre.
Just as we have footwear for the beach, running, weddings and parties (though if you live in Manchester like me, you might wear wellington boots in more than one setting) the truth is that there are different types of facemasks, for different settings and people.
Before I get into more detail please be warned, the sales of facemasks has become a boom market and the counterfeiters have moved in with amazing speed. You can buy any mask at a wide variety of prices, though some will be genuine, and an awful lot will be counterfeit – so if you can, check, check and check again. Look for a barcode or CE certification, see if there are any customer testimonials or quality assurance accreditations, these won’t remove all risk, but you’re less likely to be throwing your money away if you can see some evidence that the supplier and the masks are genuine.
So what kind of face mask do you need to deal with Covid 19?
In this blog, I’m going to look at three kinds of face masks, to be clear, they are all disposable and they are all protective. Be wary of washable masks, you could wash your tissues when you sneeze and they get dirty, but you’re more likely nowadays to throw them way, because its safer and cleaner to do so.
There are multiple international standards and names for face masks, some are identical while others are similar. As an example, in Europe, Respirator Masks are graded as FFP1, 2 and 3. Taking just the FFP2 mask, these are described as KN95 masks in China and N95 masks in the USA; while Japan, Korea and Australia have their own local names/standards for the roughly the same masks.
In broad terms, masks can be identified by the direction in which they protect, by the level of particles they filter and by their level of liquid/droplet repellence. Masks that protect the wearer from the outside world are subject to inspiration tests, whereas masks that protect the outside world from the wearer are subjected to exhalation tests.
Respirator Masks, protect the wearer from the outside world, they are tested based on inspiration, focusing on the level of filtration applied to the wearer as they breathe in, and protecting them from a wide range of airborne particulates and fluids, from the outside world. There are three grades for respirator masks in the UK, FPP1, 2 and 3 and all must comply with the European standard EN 149: 2001. FFP facemasks are examples of mechanical respirator masks, they are half-face in design, protecting the nose, mouth and chin of the wearer.
- FFP1refers to the least filtering of the three masks with an aerosol filtration of at least 80% (22% max. leakage to the inside). This mask is mainly used as a dust mask (home renovations and various types of work).
- FFP2masks have a minimum of 94% filtration percentage (8% max. leakage to the inside). They are mainly used in construction, agriculture, and can be used by healthcare professionals against influenza viruses. They are currently used for protection against the coronavirus.
- FFP3masks are the most filtering mask of the FFPs. With a minimum filtration percentage of 99.9% (2% max. leakage to the inside), they protect against very fine particles.
Medical personnel who work in higher risk areas, directly with Covid 19 patients (such as the ICU/ITU) may be required to wear FPP3 Respirator masks. So important is the fitting of respirator masks in high risk clinical areas, that the NHS runs training courses to help doctors and nurses learn how they should be ‘put on’ and worn. This course includes ‘a smelly test’, to identify if the wearer is wearing their Respirator properly; so if they smell the test odour while wearing the mask, it needs to be re-fitted.
Clinicians, organisations and business who are concerned about protecting their personnel, may choose FFP2 masks. They can be used in a clinical setting and offer a good level of protection. Sanditize provides KN95 masks, equivalent to FFP2 masks and tested for EN compliance within the EU. Sanditize K95 masks are available in boxes of 20 are individually wrapped masks, to achieve required hygiene standards
However, as with all masks, great care must be taken when putting on a mask, and even greater care when taking it off and disposing of it safely. Do not touch the mask itself, use the ear or head straps to prevent cross contamination.
Exhalation, more than just a sigh of relief.
Surgical and consumer face masks are tested for exhalation, breathing out. Your Dentist may have worn these masks while working on your last filling. These masks protect the outside world from the person wearing them, this would help your Dentist from accidently passing on a cold or a cough to every patient they saw. More importantly, surgical masks protect larger numbers of the population from the wearer who may be contagious with Covid, but simply unaware of the danger they pose to their community as they walk by.
Surgical masks are one of the most simple forms of face coverings, often made up of three layers, these masks in the UK must comply with European standard EN 14683, which has 3 levels of bacterial filtration efficiency (BFE1, BFE2, Type R). Sanditize Surgical masks are Type R, not only do they offer the highest level of filtration in this category of masks at 98%, but they also have added moisture/droplet/splash resistance properties. They should not be worn for more than 3 to 8 hours.
For non-medical settings, face masks may vary by fabric, shape and design. An additional factor than can influence consumer usage is comfort. Sanditize carries a simple everyday disposable non-medical face mask (available in packs of 10 units) that is styled like a surgical mask, however it is 2 ply and designed for greater comfort.
So which one is the best?
If you’re ready to go out shopping, the Sanditize everyday mask is a comfortable 2-ply mask. It’s designed to protect people from the wearer, so the more people who wear them, the greater we essentially protect each other.
If you do work in a medical or healthcare setting you might need either a surgical mask or a respirator mask; in higher risk environments, users would benefit from the inhalation protection offered by a respirator mask.
So if looking chic and fashionable is your guiding principle, I’m sorry for wasting your time, but if you want to keep safe, and keep the people around you safe as well, I hope this blog has been of some use.