Amid rising cases of COVID-19 pandemic across the country in the second wave, leading government and medical associations are again urging people to take the usage of masks seriously. Regardless of when we get that vaccine jab, staying safe should not go out of practice. And wearing masks is one of the most effective safety practices to avoid getting infected.
Given its importance, why shouldn’t we then pause to educate ourselves on the types of masks and the right ones to wear in public spaces?
While cloth masks are made from layers of woven or nonwoven natural/synthetic materials, these face masks can reduce droplet spray from 8 feet to 2.5 inches, which reduces the amount of potentially virus-containing particles you release into the air. The effectiveness of a homemade cloth face mask largely depends upon its design. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, densely woven cotton fabrics, such as quilting cotton, are best. Single-layer cloth masks are less effective than double/triple layer masks. However, the number of layers does not signify extra protection because these ordinary cloth fibers will have enough gaps to allow tiny virus aerosols to pass through.
Surgical masks are the ones that not only cover the user’s nose and mouth but also act as a physical barrier to aerosols and particulate materials. Initially, these face masks were not produced to protect wearers from the environment but to protect the patients from wound infection that could be caused due to exhalations of a surgeon or frontline worker. However, with the changing times now, these are adopted as protective measures for healthcare providers.
These flat, thin, paper-like masks are usually white and light blue, which should not be worn more than once. Surgical face masks can filter out around 60% of inhaled particles but are loose-fitting in nature and do not provide complete protection. These masks are primarily constructed to stop droplets and sprays, and it is advised to diligently wear a surgical mask in public spaces, which can help reduce the spread of ordinary flu, etc.
FFP2S / N95 Masks
FFP2S / N95 equivalents, also known as respirators, are designed to form a tight seal around the wearer’s nose and mouth and filter out more than 95% of particles 0.3 microns and larger. These offer the wearer protection against inhaling particulate matter that might find its way through the mask and, more significantly, from the sides of the mask. Thereby, respirators protect both the wearer and the people around the wearer. In addition, among the multiple layers present in respirators, the composition and design of its outer layers help it be resistant to droplets (some of which may be infectious) and inner layers from becoming moist with the wearer’s exhalations hence adding to the wearing comfort.
A recent study from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) found that a surgical mask blocked 59% of respiratory aerosols from a cough. In contrast, a three-layer cotton mask blocked 51% of these aerosols than an N95 mask, which blocked up to 95% of the aerosols.
Having understood the benefits, we should also be aware of the right manner of usage for respirators. Masks should be worn cautiously, ensuring that it covers the nose and the mouth and minimizes gaps. Overwhelming data and recommendations on the internet have also confused whether an extra layer is recommended if you are wearing an N95 mask? The answer to this question is NO. If you are wearing an FFP2 or N-95 mask, double masking must be avoided. Instead, one call look at wearing a multi-layered N-95 mask such as Savlon FFP2 S Mask that uses an advanced* five-layer filtration system with electrostatically charged melt-blown filters, which enhances its filtering ability.
Also, hand hygiene comes into the picture before wearing a mask and after removing it, and always dispose of it responsibly as per instructions on the pack. We should be aware that this not only acts as a preventive facial respirator but it has also become an essential aspect of a healthy lifestyle.
It is important to keep an eye out for knock-offs/cheap variants imitating the originals. Also, do check the labels and the certifications on the pack before purchase. Now, leading brands like ITC Savlon have launched BIS Certified FFP2 masks by meeting the Indian standards. So, next time you are out in public, opt for an original and branded FFP2S or an N95 equivalent mask.