Wearing face masks has become as normal as breathing at present because of the COVID-19 pandemic. With the government coming up with strict safety regulations, which made wearing masks outdoors and at crowded spaces a compulsion, the popularity of masks escalated along with new controversies.
With a rush movement to lay hands on face masks people neglected the main idea: what kind of face masks should be used to battle Covid-19? Some say that only N95 respirator can protect one from the virus while some are fine with homemade and surgical masks. Caught up in the controversy people tend to overlook the reality about the type of masks that is acceptable and safe for usage depending upon the gravity of the situation.
While people and governments across the world are making masks mandatory, WHO suggest that, there is no evidence that a face mask (medical or non- medical) can prevent a healthy individual’s risk of becoming infected while wearing it. Wearing masks also creates a false sense of security, which leads to neglecting preventive measures such as physical distancing and proper hand hygiene. So why do we need to wear a mask?
The main purpose to promote the usage of face mask is source control. It is intended to prevent the infected from spreading the virus to others. Using masks also gives us an assurance that the transmission of the virus from asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic cases is minimized. In a community, if everybody wears a mask there is less chances of spreading the virus through respiratory droplets, but their use should be accompanied by frequent hand hygiene and physical distancing.
So what type of face mask would be suitable to use during this pandemic?
Do we really need N95 respirators?
WHO recommends that it’s essential for the following people to use medical masks: front-line health care workers, older adults, and people with underlying health conditions, people in quarantine, the people in contact with an infected person, and the infected individual. Medical masks are certified and designed for single use. It has initial filtration (at least 95% droplet filtration) and breathability.
The use of N95 respirators and medical mask is not advised to the people at low risk like the general public. People at low risk areas, can wear non-medical masks through risk-based approach as WHO suggests. For non- medical masks, standard has been developed by the French Standardization Association (AFNOR group). It defines the minimum performance in terms of filtration (min 70%), particle filtration (solid\ droplet) and breathability (maximum pressure difference of 0.6mbar\cm2). Because of its low filtration and breathability standards, WHO recommends the use of non-medical masks made out of woven fabric such as cloth or non-woven fabrics, should only be considered for source control and not for prevention.
Recently the Director General of health Services (DGHS), in the ministry of health advised to avoid wearing N95 respirators which has valves in the front as it might be a one-way valve, which doesn’t filter aerosols coming out of our mouth. It fails the criteria of an effective face mask during this pandemic as it only protects the person wearing it, putting those around at risk.
Amidst this pandemic, our country has witnessed a rise in entrepreneurs producing and selling masks in the market and online as well. But are the masks safe to use? Yes, if they meet the safety protocol recommended by the competent authority. WHO insists that a minimum of three layers is required with ideal combination of material:
- An innermost layer of a hydrophilic material (eg. Cotton)
- A middle hydrophobic layer of synthetic non-woven material (polypropylene) or a cotton layer may enhance filtration or retain droplets.
- An outermost layer of hydrophobic material (eg. Polypropylene, polyester) may limit external contamination to the wearer’s nose and mouth.
Being cautious and well educated about the right type of mask to use and the right way to wear it, a mask can be a great asset in this battle with the pandemic. If we are not careful then it may become the biggest liability. Wearing the right type of face mask is important but one must also not forget the right way to wear it. So as to stay safe we all should follow what a post on social media had to say:
“Treat your mask like underwear
- Do not touch or adjust (especially in public)
- Do not borrow or lend.
- Make sure it fits tight but comfortable
- Make sure it’s clean (daily or as needed)
- Wear the right side out.
- If there’s a hole in it, throw it away.
- If it’s stained, throw it away.
- If its damp, change it. “